The Jezabels, are having a birthday party next year, marking ten years since the release of their multi-award-winning album Prisoner. If you missed the details, they’ll be playing the album in full and reminding us why a band formed at university had a lot to school us in pop, presence and ambition.
A couple of years after Prisoner, riding a pretty big swell – impressive for an inner-city band who probably surfed about as often as they drank instant coffee – The Jezabels put that ambition to the test with a gig at a little theatre down on the edge of Sydney Harbour.
Wind Back Wednesday returns to the scene and asks in a rush of cliches: did they pull it off or bite off more than they could choose (oh yes)?
Sydney Opera House, April 28, 2014
YOU HAVE TO BE PRETTY BALLSY as a band with two albums behind you to decide you are ready to play somewhere like the Sydney Opera House.
It’s not just the size of the room: at something like 2500 seats it’s big enough but they’ve played bigger – headlining the 5500-capacity Hordern Pavilion last year – even if mostly as support.
It’s not the prospect of losing money: even if full, which it wasn’t and won’t be on the second night either, it was likely that this would be a loss making exercise. Nor is it even living out a (short) lifetime’s ambition, as classically trained keyboardist Heather Shannon prefaced the show by performing her own composition on the concert hall's majestic, and stupidly hard to wrangle, organ.
The ballsiness is in saying baldly that firstly you have ambitions that go beyond your station, secondly that you aren't afraid to admit them, and thirdly you aren’t going to wait for someone to tell you when it’s appropriate to act on them. And as any artist in Australia (and the UK) knows, those are actions tantamount to waving a laundry full of red rags at grumbling media/social media bulls.
Did the Jezabels pull it off? Not completely, no. They were a little too nervous to start (well, who wouldn't be?) and I can’t help but wonder how much more thrust they’d have with a live bassplayer to help the drive of drummer Nik Kaloper and Shannon behind Sam Lockwood’s liquid guitar lines.
They were too muffled for too long: Brink opened the show proper but in a familiar rookie mistake in this room, Hayley Mary’s lead and Shannon’s backing vocals weren’t heard properly for a couple of more songs. And they don’t yet have the depth of songs to power through flat spots, even if The End is a huge pop song with a chorus on which you could stack half a dozen cars and then dance on top of.
But their ambition was given a pretty fair chance by a band which plays well enough to impress, a batch of songs which in their best moments have a soaring reach and even in their merely decent moments throw grand (and let’s be fair, heavily U2-influenced) shapes, and a singer who grew in confidence through the night until she was performing a lap dance on a woman from the front row and making it seem ridiculous and perfect.
Don’t know about you but I'd rather see a band aim for something probably a little out of their reach than settle for something already comfortably in hand. If it wasn’t already clear from the bold, if flawed, second album, The Jezabels aren’t going to die wondering.
Hallelujah for that.
The Jezabels Prisoner 10th anniversary tour will play: Th Gov, Adelaide, June 3; Metropolis, Fremantle, June 4; The Northern, Byron Bay, June 9; Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, June 10; UC Refectory, Canberra, June 11; NEX, Newcastle, June 12; Enmore Theatre, Sydney, June 18 The Forum, Melbourne, June 24. Tickets on sale from Thursday, November 4.