Melbourne’s Croxton bandroom played host to a commanding performance by Sydney-based “intensindie” rockers The Jezabels in front of an ecstatic, sold-out crowd on Friday night.
Following a sublime supporting set from Melbourne’s own Ali Barter, the headline act took to the stage just after 10pm, and concluded after a brief encore almost two hours later.
Walking out to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ came band members Heather Shannon (keyboards/synths), Nik Kaloper (drums/percussion) and Samuel Lockwood (guitars and additional synth), as they launched into the instrumental beginnings of their latest album Synthia’s opening track ‘Stand and Deliver’. Anticipation continued to build amongst the capacity crowd of almost 1,000 people for the first manifestation of lead singer and frontwoman Hayley Mary, who soon sauntered onto stage, drink in hand, wearing a customised black leather jacket. Though most of Mary’s face was hidden behind her veil-like fringe, it was impossible to mistake an irrepressible grin beneath, as the crowd erupted at her appearance.
Something that would become immediately apparent to those witnessing The Jezabels live for the first time is Mary’s now undeniable star quality, instantly captivating her audience without at first even directly engaging with them, appearing introverted and nonchalant; focused entirely on her own vocal performance, and despite early (unnoticeable) technical difficulties with Kaloper’s high-hat, neither she nor the band disappointed.
The Jezabels then powered through Synthia’s second track, ‘My Love Is My Disease’, which offered as much energy live as the studio version promised it would, before following with an unrelenting combination of renewed and emphatic versions of early fan favourite ‘Mace Spray’ and Prisoner’s ‘Long Highway’. Both the band and crowd finally got the chance to catch their collective breaths as Mary offered an explanation as to the inspiration behind another of their latest album’s tracks ‘Smile’: written in response to a news headline which asked ‘Is It Okay To Call A Woman Sexy?’
It was not long after this point in the night, and as if to throw the question back on her adoring audience, she stripped off her jacket and flicked her hair from out of her eyes, almost completely transforming her appearance and personality as she began to prance gleefully around the stage for ‘Look of Love’, only now reaching out and gazing into to the crowd she now held firmly in the palm of her hand. Her fluid bodily movements were equally matched by awkward poses reminiscent to that of a marionette’s, but there were clearly no strings holding Hayley Mary back, possessing the confidence and mystique of David Bowie, and the dynamism and panache of Mick Jagger – and a vocal ability greater than the two combined.
The set appeared to climax with another new song in the form of the pulsing ‘Pleasure Drive’, but was followed impeccably by the band’s upbeat debut track ‘Disco Biscuit Love’, which was met by further roars from the fervent crowd. But there was still much more to come, and the audience reached fever-pitch when Mary sacrificed herself to the crowd’s embrace during ‘Hurt Me’, as she sang “Come on, Abel, cut me, cut me, serve me ’round the table”, floating across the sea of sweaty palms.
The performance had been an adults only event, but the remaining demographic of those above the age of 18 was incredibly diverse, from those barely over the age restriction to more than a few men and women who would have been into their 60s and were belting out the lyrics just as stridently as the young ones. Such broad-ranging appeal is again another testament to the band and their universally alluring take on songwriting and distinctly hybrid musical genres of classic synth-pop and modern dance-rock.
The venue itself, situated in Thornbury and nestled amid the High Street hotspot, was also extremely impressive. Reopened after being refurbished and rebranded almost a year ago to the day, the amphitheatre boasts two bars either side of stage which remained open throughout the entire night, while the recent renovations also included the additions of a new sound desk and lighting rig, which were both put to immaculate use for both the supporting and headline sets.
By now it was obvious the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves, once again charging through a string of invigorating performances with ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘If Ya Want Me’, as Hayley and Sam bounced around the stage together, laughing excitedly. Finishing their initial set with a passionate, uplifting performance of Synthia closer ‘Stamina’, The Jezabels briefly left the stage before returning for a two-song encore, fittingly concluding with ‘The End’ from 2014’s The Brink, which saw Mary climb to the ceiling atop the side-of-stage speakers (to the sheer horror of the band’s technician), and leap off into the crowd below once again.
The unbridled atmosphere and genuine chemistry created by the Sydney four-piece in the intimate venue was vivid and unrelenting throughout, and much like their latest record, The Jezabel’s setlist (which has so far remained constant throughout the tour) was seamlessly constructed and at its conclusion, Mary and the band bade a sincere and grateful farewell to the delighted crowd.
Now equipped with four albums worth of material stored in their arsenal, the night proved to be the group’s strongest live gig to date. It was a show that was evidently well worth the wait, after the band had been forced to cancel their entire tour earlier this year when Heather Shannon was forced to undergo emergency treatment as she continued to fight a private battle with ovarian cancer, and it was incredibly uplifting to see her back performing once again.
If this national tour is anything to go by, The Jezabels are surely destined to reach even greater heights, despite having achieved so much already. Opportunity knocks for the band, who are set to embark on a national tour of the US and Canada in November, before returning home to play The Falls Music and Arts Festival.
The band have continually described themselves as primarily a live act, and they’ve never seemed more comfortable and suited to such an environment as they did in Melbourne. Their past live performances have been strong, but this time around was a true coming of age, and it really does feel like they’re building towards something much bigger, and are right now on the brink of greatness.
- ‘Stand and Deliver’
- ‘My Love Is My Disease’
- ‘Mace Spray’
- ‘Long Highway’
- ‘Look of Love’
- ‘Easy to Love’
- ‘Come Alive’
- ‘Pleasure Drive’
- ‘Disco Biscuit Love’
- ‘Hurt Me’
- ‘Endless Summer’
- ‘If Ya Want Me’
- ‘A Little Piece’
- ‘The End’