It was a motley crew at The Workers Club bar on Friday night. Beers flowed freely – as did the beards – as Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Olympia took to the tiny bandroom stage.
The upcoming multi-instrumentalist looked every bit the porcelain skinned Grecian goddess her stage name suggested. Striking with her white blonde bob, ruby red lips and 80s purple jumpsuit, Olympia (real name Olivia Bartley) was an explosive blend of Debbie Harry and Sia. She slung on a red Fender telecaster with white pearl pickguard, and played with languid strum strokes, emitting dissonant and distorted rhythms.
A wide sweep of ethereal choruses, Olympia swooned inarticulate lyrics into a double mic. Live recording and playback featured heavily in her solo set, and at one point, there would have been at least five Olympia’s singing in dreamy harmony. She grounded her synth-pop playlist with smalltalk, introducing ‘Blue Light Disco’ as being inspired by Asian nationals streaming into a small coastal town. I couldn’t see the connection, but it was an enjoyable, mystic lullaby nonetheless.
Immersive new single ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ finished off the night with a soaring pop riff. Building upon her already cinematic reputation with new material, Olympia did well to captivate on her lonesome.
Now, it was Mr Henry Wagons’ turn to take to the stage. Dressed in jeans, a bulky leather jacket with tassels and black fedora, he looked the quintessential raconteur.
Physically, he’s like a character from Paint Your Wagon (excuse the pun), but vocally, his voice is a whiskey-warm blend of Nick Cave and Jim Morrison, all velvety and bluesy baritones. Beneath his trademark Rob Orbison square rimmed glasses and bushy boxed beard, a soft smiled spread cross his face as the crowd whooped and cheered. First off, a solo rendition of ‘Man Sold’.
Most recognised as the charismatic frontman of his much loved Melbourne Americana band the Wagons, alone, Henry Wagons is the same alt-country crooner. With the ink barely dry on his latest material, we “guinea pigs” were the first to hear what he has been working on (and what would soon be recorded in Nashville). His first new track of the night was a fun one, ‘Cold Burger Cold Fries’, detailing the morning after a boozy night out on the town.
‘Marylou’ came next, and it was fun to learn that the song was inspired by Wagons keyboardist Matty ‘Soft Moods’ Hassett bumping into his high-school crush in Safeway. Session guitarist Matt Walker joined Henry for most of the night, adding electric riffs to Henry’s stomping outlaw stories and swagger.
Acid Rain & Sugar Cane’s ‘Beer Barrel Bar’ suited the heckler-heavy Workers Club, whilst newbie, ‘Cowboy in Krakow’ got everyone listening. He tried to explain a recent trip to Poland with his mum to meet her half-brother, chuckling “I’m gonna have to revisit ancestry.com to get this right” as he stumbled through the facts. Olympia came back out to duet on ‘Give Things a Chance to Mend’, before Henry got the only children in the room (me) to raise their hands for his heartfelt ballad ‘Only Child’.
Fan favourite ‘Love Me Like I Love You’ got the cramped crowd bogeying, with the hirsute troubadour locking eyes with enthusiastic girls in the front row. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘State Trooper’ was what everyone was waiting for, and Henry didn’t disappoint, prowling, pacing and erupting into intermittent howls and intense stares. “I love you Henry”, a drunken female slurred over the music, to which he wittily replied “you are so easily impressed” before he disappeared and retuned with little fuss for a two-song encore. ‘Moon Into the Sun’ went down well, before Three Dog Night and “fat Elvis” closer ‘Never Been to Spain’ took flight.
Charismatic cowboy Henry Wagons brought beer, beards and belly laughs to The Workers Club on Friday night. His voice was guttural deep, his stories rich in midwestern sentiment and his acoustic guitar soaked in the travelling blues, however, the man behind the voice is more cuddly teddy than grissly bear. Peppering songs with funny anecdotes and expressions, Wagons is a truly natural and entertaining performer who oozes Aussie charm and friendliness.
If you haven’t already, it’s never too late to jump on the bandwagon!