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Review: Willow Beats | The Chippendale Hotel, Sydney

Written By Zanda Wilson on 07/17/2017

Image: Facebook

The night kicked off with a fun, energetic opening set from Blondebears, before  the next support act Oh Boy came on to a fairly chilled crowd. They didn’t remain so for long, with the Sydney DJ taking the vitality in the place to 100 real quick. For those who haven’t caught Oh Boy live before, he definitely channels some Lido/Wave Racer vibes, but with a diverse sound that brings in R&B and hip hop references across his music as well.

The biggest tracks of the set came in the form of his two collabs with the unstoppable up and comer Mallrat, with his newie Rush Hour dropping into a now-buzzed audience.

Now to the main act; the ethereal vibes of Willow Beats. Following a sold-out set in Melbourne the night prior, the uncle/niece duo brought together a show that’s definitely Splendour In The Grass-ready ahead of their set later this month at the Byron festival.

Having first caught Willow Beats at the now-extinct OutsideIn festival in Marrickville some years back, it was incredible to see how far their live show has come in just a few short years. An expanding repertoire of songs hasn’t hurt this cause, but it’s clear that through the greater experience of playing more and more shows the duo have grown in confidence and from the offset their chemistry both between each other and with the crowd has undoubtedly become more natural.

Narayana Johnson, the man largely behind the band’s production, worked in an increasing number of live elements into the performance. His increased use of guitar and his own live backing vocals behind the ever-enchanting Kelyani Ellis added new layers to the sound for a band whose music is built around subtle changes and exploration in musical textures.

Ellis’ inimitable vocals have come a long way too, and her capacity to channel subtle changes in the written vocal lines and really use her raw power and emotion to create exciting and explosive moments in a track, and just as quickly fade back into the mix just in time for a sparkling sample to come to the fore.

We were treated to several unreleased tracks that showed that there is a lot more to Willow Beats that we are yet to hear, and these were mixed in perfectly with the tracks that have really struck a chord with fans. Predictably, songs like Dvaraka Pt. II, Merewif and Chess had the crowd at maximum participation, but even brand newie Be Kind To Yourself was well-known after just a few weeks.

There were many highlights, but it’s so hard to go past Johnson’s vocal feature Blue, as it brings together everything that makes the duo so captivating live. Raw emotion, subtle instrumental changes, perfect vocal manipulation, and yet a driving energy that betrays how chilled the song feels initially.

Willow Beats have gotten the small-scale gig down to an art, and their next challenge will be to see how they can translate that energy into a bigger crowd (if that’s even what they want for their music). Some of the questions about what may lie next for them will be answered in a few weeks’ time at Splendour In The Grass, but if these headline shows are anything to go by, there’s a growing appreciation for the incredible sound and vibes they are creating. Their natural ability to transport a crowd into their alternate reality of unique sounds and samples is something that many other artists could only dream of having.