Live Review: The Jezabels + Ali Barter – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne (14.10.16)

The Jezabels’ third full-length album, Synthia, was released in February this year, delivering more of the powerful synth-pop that the band is revered for. Unfortunately, the supporting tour (planned for earlier this year) had to be cancelled, due to synth player Heather Shannon undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. Now that everyone’s health is in check, and we’ve had eight months to revel in the delights of Synthia, The Jezabels are back on the road. We caught them at The Croxton Bandroom last night, supported by Melbourne songstress Ali Barter.

Ali Barter, a classically trained soprano, brought a massive set of grunge-pop with her five-piece outfit. The strong vocals touched on moments reminisce of 00’s garage bands; think Karen O in Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, even No Doubt (think their less ska-y moments). It’s a mature visit to that musical era; clever song-writing and unexpected harmonies oscillating to solid garage-rock. The set was accessible, yet interesting, with lyrical nuances and melodic bravery keeping the interest piqued.

Ali was humble, remaining captivating without exuberance. By the end of the set, rounding off with hits including ‘Girlie Bits’ and ‘Far Away’, she found her stride on stage, the band’s adorable comradery and nonchalance rousing the crowd. There’s no wondering why the layered vocals, explorative guitar and pop melodies are receiving international acclaim – keep your eye on Ali Barter.

The Croxton Bandroom is an expansive hall, and was packed wall to wall in anticipation of The Jezabels taking the stage. Although standing near the front meant experiencing how tinned sardines feel, the vibe was relaxed, and the gender ratio in the front was equal (as it should always be). An ambient, shimmering, synth-fuelled intro led the crowd to hysteria, before Hayley Mary took the stage, where I think a few people might have been elevated beyond hysteria. Hayley was provocative and powerful, ensnaring the crowd, and immediately dominating the room.

It’s evident that the group earned their revered position in the indie music scene through live performance – they’re effortlessly amazing, infinitely dynamic, and played unfazed for nearly two hours. Hayley’s between-song banter was minimal and to the point, remaining humble and addressing feminism; ‘whether it’s OK to call a woman sexy… this song is about my personal feelings on the matter’. That got a resounding ‘YAS QUEEN!’ from the crowd, swelling voices then matching the lyrics ‘Don’t tell me to smile/If you don’t know me, brother’.

Synth player Heather Shannon carried the set, providing the depth of sound, 80s-laden fillers, bass-lines and soaring melodies. You can’t deny the 80s vibes that emanate from this band, but it’s Hayley’s ridiculous voice that elevates their sound.

The group flawlessly delivered material from all EPs and albums, with new(er) content from 2016 release Synthia not failing to please. Slow-building, ethereal wonder ‘Come Alive’ reached a climactic atmosphere – it’s only fitting that it was followed by ‘Pleasure Drive’.

Before the set had finished, Hayley had shed her leather jacket, crowd surfed, and danced across the stage; ‘it’s pretty amazing to just be able to frolic about on stage, and have people watch’. It’s unsurprising that the group was encored for a further two songs, culminating in a Catwoman-esque speaker climb, and a second crowd surf accompanying ‘The End’.

The audience was varied in age, levels of gentrification and appearance – people weren’t drawn by trends, but for an appreciation of powerful music. It’s great to have The Jezabels back on the touring circuit – I’m already looking forward to seeing them again.

The Jezabels are currently on tour, and will play Melbourne again tonight before hitting Adelaide, Canberra and Newcastle before jetting over to North America. For dates, tickets and more details head to their official website.

Photo by Gwendolyn Lee

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