JACK LADDER @ St John’s Church gets 7.5/10

Jack Ladder @ St John’s Anglican Church (for Fremantle Festival)
w/ Peter Bibby
Sunday, October 29, 2017

7.5/10

You can always count on Fremantle to bring unique experiences to the people of Perth. Jack Ladder with special guest Peter Bibby on Sunday night at St John’s Anglican Church was one such experience. The 19th century church was set up for the gig like it would be for mass; complete with pews, lecturn, candles and flowers, with only a singular microphone giving the gig away. It’s a beautiful old building complete with commanding high ceilings, imposing crucifixes and stained glass windows. It demonstrates the amazing craftsmanship and architecture of Fremantle, and seemed the perfect backdrop to showcase some unique artists this Fremantle Festival.

In spite of St John’s beauty however, it did somewhat lacked the practicality required for a music gig. It proved a hard venue to play – given the acoustics, the size, and the fact the crowd had to sit down on extremely uncomfortable seats and backwards from the stage, instead of around it. It gave the venue a lecture type feeling, rather than the feel of an inclusive music show.

The pop up bar next to the church was buzzing with life, but once you stepped inside the church itself, the mood was instantly and distinctively bleak, as though everyone was on their best behavior in the house of God; the silent crowd made for an eerie atmosphere. It meant the acts had their work cut out for them, especially given it was a cold and windy Sunday night in Fremantle.

As such, up first Peter Bibby had the terribly hard job of injecting some life and fun into the place. It did eventually prove a little too much for Bibby and his guitar, especially given he had flown in to Perth that night and was seemingly ill and tired. As he stood up on the alter belting out his songs, you could see why he is such a Perth favourite, but Bibby’s larrikin ways were not well suited to the surrounds and the subsequent mood of the crowd, with only a few people in the first few pews partaking in banter with him.

Bibby struggled through most of his songs, often forgetting the lyrics and having to start some songs again, his guitar was often out of tune and his voice kept breaking mid note. You got the feeling he was going to find his groove and hit his strides, but he never really managed to do so. This is not necessarily a reflection on him, it was already a hard task made almost impossible by his tiredness. Besides, his understated, gravelly vocal stylings and ultra-Australian humour is much better suited to a raucous pub, not a 19th century church on a sleepy Sunday night.

Jack Ladder was up next and the first promising sign was that he was plugged in. The amplified guitar notes rang out loudly through the church reverberating and bouncing off the walls and creating melodies all of themselves. His deep velvety, baritone voice instantly warmed the crowd up and had them in a peppier mood. To be fair, his voice and persona was much better suited to the venue than Bibby’s, and in hindsight, the promoters could have done a bit more work in getting a support act that would have better suited the venue.

Ladder seamlessly made his way through a catalogue of old and new songs including Hurstville, To Keep and To be Kept and Susan, he also graced the audience with a cover of Conway Twitty’s You’ve Never Been This Far Before, nicely showcasing his love and roots in folk and country. He even gave some personal insight into some of his tracks, which the crowd hugely enjoyed, starting off some fun chat between he and the crowd.

His self-deprecating humour and manner make him an instantly likeable performer. He playfully bantered with the crowd and often had everyone in fits of laughter. He even delved into some long winded stories and oddities between sets, showing that he is really finding himself as a performer and storyteller.

Ladder barely missed a guitar chord and smoothly transitioned between verses, instruments, melodies, notes, stories and words. Subsequently, his set flew by.

He made the whole show a huge success, particularly because – unlike Ladder’s pretty hip Australian-London based posse – he does not create personas and talk from them, he is sincerely himself. He’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve or tell a good old-fashioned folk tale, and it’s this refreshingly honest and genuine approach that makes him such an interesting artist.

In short, Ladder brings it back to basics, back to why we all feel in love with music in the first place; because the songs and the words transcend, they mean something to the audience, they move the audience. Sunday’s show at St John’s, a place of tradition and reflection, was the perfect landscape for someone who puts the emphasis back on the simple magic of music.

LARA FOX

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