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SARAH BLASKO @ Rosemount Hotel gets 9/10


Sarah Blasko @ The Rosemount Hotel
w/ Ryan Downey
Thursday, June 14, 2018

9/10

Sarah Blasko has arguably been the best female artist in Australia for some years, and over two shows last week, she put forward a strong case to end the argument with a brilliant, world-class performance of her new album from start to finish, followed by some of her greatest hits—owning the stage with charisma, wit and that incredible voice.

A gifted songwriter as well as a remarkable vocalist, she’s been putting out unique albums of consistent quality for 14 years and is still evolving, with her latest release in February up with her finest work to date. Depth Of Field reveals a deeper, darker side of Blasko; an indulgent pleasure with a sophisticated synthy sheen. It’s an intimate, introspective album that carries an emotional weight that is felt within as she confidently delivers her personal sermons over a pulsing electro beat.

The videos released so far have had a similarly dark look and feel. Blasko has been through some heavy times over the last couple of years, but has come out the other side stronger with her fire reignited and sounding more assured than ever. Her songs inhabit this new style and character perfectly, dealing with themes of love, loss, betrayal and sin.

Blasko has always been a great performer and puts on dynamic, theatrical shows—and as she danced around the stage with her trademark bold and insistent movements, these songs seemed to have a cathartic element to them. They were brought to life with the full support of a superb, tight backing band, including the amazing Donny Benet.

Ryan Downey

Another treat on the night was the support provided by the wonderful young songwriter and troubadour beyond his years, Melbourne’s Ryan Downey. An old soul with an incredibly deep and rich voice that draws comparisons to those of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, he impressed the growing crowd which was noticeably comprised of all ages. At times he could mix it up, sounding more like a ’50s crooner or Johnny Cash. A serious and sombre presence with a wry delivery, Downey’s songs are finely crafted and nuanced works of art.

The title track from his compelling debut Running features his sparsely plucked and strummed nylon acoustic guitar, and its sheer beauty resonated deeply. Tidings is a layered a capella track he said he wrote when he broke his arm. The live version was a little different but featured some great whistling. Other highlights were a song called 1+1, normally performed as a duet with Zoe Randell, and the classic sounding Those Eyes That Answer. An intriguing talent to keep an eye on.

Sarah Blasko

The crowd swelled as the stage was prepared and the vibe built considerably for the main attraction. The band emerged, closely followed by Sarah Blasko in a quirky antique-style black dress with a ruffled white lacy collar and sleeves, looking eternally doll-like, as she began to shake and groove to the throbbing rhythm of opening track Phantom, immediately capturing the crowd the second she opened her mouth and unleashed that immaculate, smoky voice.

Huge cheers went up at the end of the first track as the crowd were struck with the force of the music. Without further ado the band launched into the second track from the album A Shot, upping the drama stakes as Blasko passionately cried out on the chorus “I took a shot right to the heart!” The crowd felt it too—the mix was loud, but perfectly balanced. The polished production on the album was a pleasure to hear recreated live, with the impressive ensemble of multi-talented musicians giving the tracks that extra punch and depth.

She confirmed that she would in fact be playing the entire new album, as a trademark funky little bass line from Benet introduced Never Let Me Go. An album highlight, Everybody Wants To Sin is perhaps a nod back to Blasko’s conservative Church school upbringing by her Pentecostal parents, and sounded incredible as she threw her body into the song, preaching over the stomping beat and heavy, dirty synth.

Sarah Blasko

Heaven Sent, a big tune that really highlights her soaring voice, showed off the versatility of the band as they swapped between bass, guitars and keyboards, providing the necessary sonic backdrop for Blasko as she danced around the stage. Her voice and movements on tracks like this and Read My Mind are reminiscent of Kate Bush. Blasko incorporates her physicality into her performance with such a sense of drama and with more intensity and energy than ever before.

Making It Up and Savour It showed how truly solid the album was, with this stanza climaxing in the slower, emotional number Leads Me Back. She thanked the audience for allowing her to indulge herself with the new album saying “It feels good to put it out into the world…Now we’re gonna play some older stuff”.

Blasko then blazed through a great selection of tracks from her five-album deep back-catalogue, reimagining some songs with the band and giving them different arrangements, and an overall dark, synth heavy makeover.

I Am Ready sounded superb, as did the shimmering melodic synth of I Wanna Be Your Man with Blasko intoning “Easy come, easy go, living in a man’s world”. Thundering drums drove I Awake to huge heights as Blasko’s voice peaked in the second chorus with soaring synth tones assuming the role of the strings in the original.

Sarah Blasko

“This one’s about the music industry,” she said introducing God-Fearing, which features some intriguing lines like “You have no respect, you’re not listening”, “Biting my lip, holding my tongue, was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done” and the repeated refrain “Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down, pass ‘em left, pass ‘em right”.

One of her finest moments was All I Want, which sounded brilliant in all its triumphant, western-stylised glory, and We Won’t Run had the crowd singing along to finish the set proper as the band left the stage.

She was soon back, assuring us that she would be playing two more songs, so as not to leave any uncertainty or anxiety around it. She finished with a delicate, beautiful performance of Down On Love accompanied just by piano, before the emotive drama of Without from 2015’s Eternal Return. Despite all the ups and downs, she left things on an uplifting note as she sang “Without love, you have nothing at all”.

An artist still at the peak of her game, Blasko is a national treasure, and her genius deserves more recognition as a masterful singer-songwriter and singular art-rock performer among the likes of PJ Harvey or St Vincent. It was a performance for the ages, taking us through her latest redefining masterpiece, as well as a look back at some of her finest moments.

 ALFRED GORMAN

Photos by Linda Dunjey

 

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