An excited mix of family, friends and fans made up the bustling Ding Dong Lounge crowd for the launch of Melbourne music darling Ella Hooper’s first solo album In Tongues. The LP marks a change in direction for the 31-year-old singer-songwriter, TV and radio personality – with Hooper exploring more mature, personal and pop-influenced storytelling over the garage-punk schtick of the former Killing Heidi front woman’s younger days. In Tongues is also Hooper’s first time without with her musical partner and brother Jesse Hooper by her side (although he did manage to sneak onto the credits as co-writer of the moving finale ‘Last Rites’).
Melbourne folk songstress Lester The Fierce (aka Anita Lester) kicked off the night with her languid tales of love, sex and death. Entrancing in a cut-out sequinned party dress, Hooper’s self-described “witchy sister” howled and soared her way through her love-sick set, swooning over the bass-thick backing of her own electric guitar and her male bassist backup. ‘Oh Father’ stopped most in their tracks, as the young singer-songwriter’s haunting voice dwelled on the aftermath of an absent father, the verse peppered with lullaby guitar hooks.
Next up was old-soul troubadour and Marlon Williams tour buddy, Melody Pool. The Barbie-blonde folk singer from the Hunter Valley, NSW sung of lost love, infidelity and regaining independence like someone beyond her tender years. Dressed in a Stevie Nicks-esque lacy white frock and clutching an oversized acoustic guitar, Pool told the audience she would only be singing one song from her debut album The Hurting Scene, picking and choosing originals and covers that best conveyed her unique country-twang. Sassy, blunt lyrics and confident finger-picking were on display, Pool all the while keeping her steely gaze on the back of the room. Her strident string strumming cooled the chatty crowd.
Then, out came the long awaited headline – Ella Hooper. Her squished-but-adoring fans (or “franz” as Ella calls them, meaning ‘friends’ + ‘fans’) whooped and cheered as the tiny country girl from Violet Town leapt onto the stage. Dressed in a layered black feather top, black jeans and a new messy “break-up blonde” ‘do, she started her set with ‘Wild Stallionz’. Flanked by her backing band (all wearing In Tongues tees), Hooper commanded the small Ding Dong stage, swaying and dancing hypnotically from left to right and engaging eye-to-eye with her front row fans. She promised to converse “with no airs and graces”, paving the way for f-bomb littered candid confessions between songs.
Hooper split up her set with suitable covers, inviting Pool back onstage for a duet, and singer Jack Colwell (from Jack Colwell & The Owls) up for a sexy duel of ‘Total Control’ by The Motels. Astrological break-up track ‘Dead Star’ worked better in the live setting than on the album, with its conventional pop backing rousing the eager crowd. Hooper described the song as being about “when you find someone, and you fall in love… but then you realise, they have no soul!” much to the audience’s delight. “It happens all the time”, she added.
Sexy hex number ’Häxan’ got the fans swooning as Hooper’s sensual vocals cooed gravelly over the organ-dominated soundscape, her drummer beating out lush electronica synths. As the song lyrics themselves suggest, it was this track that put the crowd “under a spell”.
Small town ballad ‘Last Rites’ played right in the middle of the set. Hooper’s guitarist set a mellow, melancholy tone with his quivering fingerpicking sounds while Hooper mesmerised with her lullaby-lilt vocals. People shushed and shoved each other to keep quiet, feeling privileged to be so close to Ella as she explored such intimate musings. The title track ‘In Tongues’ went down well, with her raspy high-hitting vocals fittingly echoey in the small space and soaring angelically over the thick guitar/drum combo.
Unfortunately, Ella’s set had to be cut down dramatically due to time constraints, and album favourite ‘Low High’ and ‘Everything Was A Sign’ didn’t get played. Hooper ended her long-awaited gig with crowd favourite and early In Tongues single ‘The Red Shoes’, and live, the song had a much more upbeat tempo. Clearly in her element on stage, it was a shame to see Ella cut short at her own album launch. However, for the 40 minutes that she was on stage, Ella Hooper captivated the Ding Dong with her immersive storytelling and bubbly performance vigour.