On another chilly Melbourne night, The Workers Club in Fitzroy was full to the brim with people wanting to escape the cold and listen to some live music. Second on the bill was 21-year-old Melbourne singer-songwriter Gena Rose Bruce.
After winning the 2013 Telstra Road to Discovery award, Bruce released her debut 5-track EP Wild One Babe at the end of 2013, and has been writing and touring ever since. She’s supported for the likes of Ella Hooper, Daryl Braithwaite and The Pierce Brothers, and last year, was runner up in the Americana category of the prestigious Unsigned Only international songwriting competition with her track ‘Jackson’.
With a voice eerie similar to Katy Steele’s (Little Birdy), Bruce played a mesmerising set supported by her band – including awesome lead guitarist Cordelia Crosbie – and showcased mainly originals.
Ethereal track ‘Blazing Radio’ was a dark, indie-pop stunner, with her smoky-to-silky voice simmering over with a piano-driven melody. Singing static with a come-hither stare, Bruce was a contradiction, oozing both sex-appeal and naivety simultaneously. And even more perplexingly, when she spoke, it was with the voice of a little girl.
In her lyrics, she sings of falling for a guy with a child and pining over broken relationships, but it was in her simplistic reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ that she showed finesse. When paired with poetic songwriting, Bruce’s (Gena’s not Springsteen’s) musical maturity shines.
Against an aptly decorated backdrop of trees and foliage, six-piece folksters Forest Falls squeezed onto the stage. Lead by blonde-haired singer-songwriter Jon O’Neill, band members Lucy Rash, Jamie Daborn, Gabe Federico, Shaun Tolk and Jeremy, took to their prospective positions behind fairy-light smothered microphones.
The show was the second in a month-long residency at The Workers Club, showcasing material from their upcoming EP Hounds. Touching on themes of love, relationships, compromise, confusion and lust, the overall effect is a gentle wash of nostalgic, folk-pop balladry.
Overflowing with the rich, lush sounds, it was obvious they were some sound issues with the venue, but thankfully nothing major enough to detract from the imaginative lyricism and musical abilities of the band and their music.
Flame-haired songstress and multi-instrumentalist Lucy seemed to disappear and re-appear in different places all night. On minute she’s bent over the keyboard, the next, she’s letting rip a spine-tingling violin solo on the other side of the stage. Oh, and don’t forget, she plays guitar too.
‘Heavy Hearted Girl’ was a slower number, with melancholy-drenched droning “ooohs” and harmonies a la Bon Iver, whilst ‘Coming Home’ kicked things up a subtle notch with a rousing Celtic-esque middle section.
Forest Falls then decided to do an a cappella sing-along in the pit, getting the crowd to contribute chorus backing vocals. Even in such an intimate setting, there was a sea of mobile phones eager to catch the seemingly spontaneous acoustic and unplugged performance of ‘Archipelago Heart’, but little to no lighting made recordings next to useless (I know, I tried!).
Recorded and produced alongside five-time ARIA award winning producer Wayne Connolly (Paul Dempsey, Josh Pyke) at Alberts Studio in Sydney, lead single ‘Hounds’ was driven by exquisite harmonies and liberating saxophone solos, and played at the tail end of the setlist. Then O’Neill asked the crowd,“have you ever stolen someone’s heart?”, and launched into ‘Thieves’.
Towards the end of the set, O’Neill toe-tapped to the back of the stage and hit a pedal with his foot, and a comically long plume of fog erupted from a hidden smoke machine. Both band and crowd chuckled at the brazen attempt at atmos, and although the effect didn’t last long, the already cheery mood was well and truly set.
A well-rounded show that immersed and entertained, Forest Falls fans were treated to thrilling alt-folk five-part harmonies, captivating chants and big smiles – from the band, and from the person standing next to you.