(Photo by Jordan Munns)
Enmore Theatre, January 31
DID SOMEONE ORDER the pizzas? Chloe has the tequila and Leon scored a baggie, so we’re sorted.
It may be that some came for a concert: a string of radio hits, millions of real world sales and a songwriting voice that sparkles with old and new world appeal pulls a crowd. The kind of crowd that cleared out the merch desk long before showtime and hummed with anticipation that could be heard down Enmore Road.
And those on stage looked up for it: the six piece band decked out in white suits with bowties (the women) and dress shirts and bowties (the men); the evening’s host in full-length shimmer (with a non-photoshopped midriff); the trumpet and saxophone frontline contributors, not background colour for a synth wash; the voice seemingly capable of anything.
But what we got, to borrow a phrase from a friend who was deep in the throng and deep in infatuation, was a hang, a kind of musical Netflix and chill with your new besties. What we got was a medium-size theatre reshaped as a living room sprawl where a “show of honesty” mixed Sarf Lon’on banter, frank confessions and extended digressions with musical selections from what might have been the coolest record collection, not a debut album.
(Mind you, a debut that is not the work of a naif packaged for consumption, but someone who has had to wait her turn, warehoused by a label which, while milking her songwriting for others, didn’t know what to do with her. But Raye – Rachel Keen – knew what to do. This much is very clear.)
This record collection in Raye’s temporary living room gave us swinging brassy soul with some scat and free-form vocalising over the top (Thrill Is Gone), and soul folding into R&B in a song that was a buoyant fuck you to the men who blocked and chopped up her early career (Hard Out Here). It brought in George Benson-style silky jazz as a showcase for the fluidity of her voice (Worth It) and a song fiercely burning in deceptively gentle colours that squared sexual assault and the masquerades of coping mechanisms (Ice Cream Man).
It went to ‘90s clubland and ‘70s balladry separately (Black Mascara and Natalie Don’t), to Las Vegas cabaret and New York attitude simultaneously (Oscar Worthy Tears) and suggested what Eartha Kitt’s Latin soul might have felt like with Shirley Bassey’s lungs (Five Star Hotel).
Cracking stuff that’s old school but fresh and blurs generations.
Here’s the thing though with a hang, there’s a trade-off to be made for the relaxed pleasures. All the chat, the opening up and connecting, the amusing and the moving, meant there were only eight (not long) songs in the first hour. There was a 20-minute solo spot at the piano taking requests – done as excerpts – which meandered a little beyond charming. There was a real sense that the show regularly teetered on, or crossed over, the edge of blunted momentum.
Some issues, yes. But jeez she’s good. Can write. Can sing. Can charm. Hanging with Raye is fun. Now, where’s that last slice of pizza?
READ MORE: Raye – My 21st Century Blues: Album Review
Raye plays the Laneway Festival: Brisbane, February 3; Sydney, February 4; Auckland, February 6; Adelaide, February 9; Melbourne, February 10; Perth, February 11
A version of this review originally ran in The Sydney Morning Herald