The Lansdowne revival is well and truly in full swing, and Jack River’s (aka Holly Rankin) sold out show was a landmark occasion, rolling away the stone to reveal Sydney’s resurrected live music scene. It’s magic when a lineup features artists diverse enough to stand out from the headline act, sharing the spotlight in their own right while also managing to transfix an audience across genres through A-grade songwriting.
First up was Moody Beach, the project of Sydney-based artist Melissah Marie. Now a five-piece band, Moody Beach played through cuts off their self-titled new EP, packed with gauzy guitar lines, wistful shoegaze interludes, and lyrics equal parts catchy and curt (notably the “Babe, are you a minus or a plus?” hook on “I Should Exercise”). Marie’s light banter was limited but endearing, and she warranted a few chuckles introducing “Vanilla” with the disclaimer that she actually “hates that flavour”. The audience grew quite rapidly, giving their full attention, totally engrossed in the psych-pop offerings.
It was a surprising sight to see the energy in the room shift in preparation for 22-year-old Melbournian Didirri’s set. By the time he took the stage, barefoot with his flowing locks brushing the top of his guitar, a large group of punters had perched themselves cross-legged at the front. As soon as he launched into the first of many spine-tingling numbers, it all made sense – the seated crowd grew. If there was ever a time to breach fire safety regulations by starting a campfire, that was it. Accompanied only by his six strings, Didirri tore through an incredible set, his flawless vocals silencing the at-capacity room. His refreshingly laid-back aura could best be summarised in his ability to switch between a topic as heavy as suicide to an anecdote on shadow puppets in a single breath with unmistakeable ease.
Forster native Holly Rankin has had a busy year; alongside her Jack River releases, she’s spearheaded some watershed events. Rankin started Electric Lady, the all-female music movement vaunting a lineup of incredible local women in music, and she’s also the curator for Grow Your Own festival, which already promises to be a huge success in its second year.
On stage, Jack River appeared as a personification of her shimmering indie-pop sensibilities, sparkling between her band in a sequinned jumpsuit. Drawing inspiration from politically-inclined songwriting greats like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, the I OH YOU signee’s sound marries rich, heartfelt lyrics with intricate ‘60s-tinted melodies. She described “Palo Alto” with refreshing candour, calling it a “secret music industry hate song”. In a live setting, her vocal delivery – which flaunts Gwen Stefani-like inflections – sliced through psychedelic, swirling guitars and earworm riffs, taking full charge in the mix.
Stripped back love song “Head To Stars” saw cascading harmonies between River and Little May’s Annie Hamilton, who was also on guitar duties for the evening. Little May fans know that the trio’s harmonies are a national treasure, so Hamilton’s backing vocals throughout the evening were a stellar addition, perfectly complementing Jack River’s deeper musings. Upbeat track “Dream Girl” had the whole room grooving out in little dance circles, singing along to the teenage soundtrack chorus: “I lie awake at night, thinking about your dream girl.”
Arriving as “a gift for your Friday night”, her cover of Tal Bachman’s ‘90s pop-rock anthem “She’s So High” upgraded the typical drunk pub karaoke song (not that there’s anything wrong with that) into a dazzling singalong. Written during a late-night walk through Sydney, as Jack River explained, “Fool’s Gold” and its elegant yet explosive chorus had everyone roaring along to JR’s Stratocaster strums — it was an extraordinary wrap-up to the soundtrack of a local live show golden era. Holly Rankin has already had a huge impact on Australian music, and we’re betting that this is only the start.
Photos by Lars Roy.