The weekend after the long weekend is always a quiet one, generally most are too busy metaphorically licking their wounds to consider venturing out for another hit of booze and social interaction. It takes a pretty special lineup to persuade people to leave their warm beds and Netflix but last Saturday night, Oxford Art Factory offered up said lineup in the form of a sold out Andy Bull show with supports from Cub Sport and Vigilantes.
Opening for the evening, Vigilantes take the stage and front woman Angela Ford immediately dazzles with a bejewelled forehead and a cool gaze. Her blend of candy coloured accessories, fur coat and foil print crop top lends to an aesthetic not dissimilar to a ’90s Gwen Stefani mashed up with Claire Boucher (of Grimes fame). The real shocker comes however when Ford opens up her mouth and begins to entrance the audience with the smooth as honey, dark as night vocals. While the songs are clearly pop-minded, there are stabs of r&b and an overall indie vibe. Guitar work (manned by Dave Jenkins Jnr) sets Vigilantes’ indie pop hits apart from the masses and gives it more of an edge than its contemporaries. It’s a little RATATAT and sometimes a little Jack White… cross that with dreamy synths and a hybrid of sampled drum machines vs a live kit and you’ve created the really well orchestrated live sound that is Vigilantes. The duo breeze through their originals with a powerful hold over their audience (which doubles in size during the time of their set). A unique and sultry cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene is received warmly but the real highlight is the closing track in which an uplifting chorus allows Vigilantes to transcend a regular support slot and show this reviewer that this is the just the beginning for the band. This is a duo to keep your eyes on as next time they play OAF they may well be headlining.
By the time Cub Sport take the stage the space is all but filled, not surprising for a band as popular as these Triple J sweethearts. The young guns power through tune after tune with absolute musical precision, there is absolute familiarity between all members and all songs that make for a fluid performance. Singer Tim Nelson’s pure vocal tone is instantly recognisable even to this silly reviewer who thought she didn’t know who Cub Sport were (we’re blaming the name Change due to legal reasons). The songs are a mix of saddened lyrics against a bright indie pop rock background. Nelson gave fun anecdotes between songs in an almost burlesque manner where he shared some of the songs origins with the audience. Who knew Evie was actually about his dog? Following in the footsteps of the opening act, Cub Sport also treated the audience to a cover-a mashup of some of the greatest Queen Bey tunes. Starting with a rendition of Drunk in Love (not dissimilar to the treatment taken by The Weeknd) before then transitioning into Flawless and finishing on an enthusiastic Crazy In Love. Cub Sport had the audience wailing along and absolutely eating it up. The biggest challenge of covering great songs that are widely loved is not being able to do them justice… but by keeping to their own unique sound, Cub Sport managed to perform a rendition I’m sure they’ll be getting pestered to replicate for a long time to come.
Anticipation fizzles through the crowd as the curtains are drawn and Andy Bull (presumably) sets up. As each filler song over the PA dies out and another begins-the audience groan in agony…it’s clear that everybody is champing at the bit to see Andy. When the curtains finally draw back fans are met with an empty stage and the opening drum sample from the Sea Of Approval album. The band takes the stage and jump straight into the soft Just One Expression, Just One Line. It’s understated and arguably one of the best songs on the album and its great to see its inclusion in the set which surely saw many re-drafts. A few songs in it’s apparent the set is designed to showcase Sea Of Approval in the truest sense possible and the crowd are loving it. It’s a real blend of people dancing around wildly (and probably drunkenly) and people standing in awe with giant smiles plastered to their faces. Call me part of the latter, because it’s hard not to be completely wrapped up in the sheer enormity of Bull’s voice. All at once and immediately in its own stratosphere, you’d be hard pressed to mistake him for anybody else. The control over such a huge and powerful range is also baffling and all the more impressive that Bull never feels the need to be virtuosic in every song. Sonically Bull never sacrifices a great melody or great instrumentation for a display of vocal acrobatics. That sense of “the producer knows best” may have been what kept us all waiting so long for the album but it was undeniably worth it as Sea of Approval arrived as the best version of itself…which is so beautifully being showcased live.
At the end of every song the band seemed overwhelmed and ecstatic about the thunderous response they’re getting. There is so much love in the room for this artist who has for so many years now been a constant in an ever changing Australian music scene. Bull’s backup absolutely kill every part of the set too, none more so than guitarist Alex Bennison who seems to play so fervently you’d think it’s the last show of his life. Bennison has also been touring with Andy Bull since back when you all fell in love with his Everybody Wants To Rule The World Like a Version. Which…don’t worry, he performed (probably for the thousandth time) to the collective squeals and sighs of the female percentage of the crowd.
In an encore that we definitely could sense coming, Bull took the time to slow down and thank every person who has been a part of the Sea of Approval journey. From the fans to the bands he’s worked with to his loving wife-Bull made sure not to leave a soul out of his moving speech. The genuine nature of his thanks are just one part of the big picture of why so many love this artist and upon closing with an extended Keep On Running it became hard not to have a real sense of pride in one of our best homegrown talents.