What's so special about Vance Joy?

Hordern Pavilion, September 13
3.5 stars

What's so special about Vance Joy? Why can he sell out this 5,500-capacity barn when 5,500 other local singer-songwriters could not?

Replay

As the 30-year-old Melburnian began finger-picking the simple pattern of opener Call If You Need Me, his voice quavering in the role of the "boy striking matches upon your heart", it was clear that familiarity rather than uniqueness was the appeal here.

He might have recorded a song that's been streamed a billion times (the ukulele-led Riptide) but the former VFL player, christened James Keogh, still came across as the bloke next door.

The approachability extended to the songs. On paper their lyrics are full of boy-meets-girl cliches but Joy explained best how he turns them from run-of-the-mill to relatable.

He told us he'd had a lyric in his head for months – "Everything is fine/When your head's resting next to mine" – that he couldn't fit into a song the way he wanted.

Then the band launched into Fire and the Flood, where those words blend with the horn section to become the hopeful, redeeming chorus against the stalkerish verses, and the alchemy behind Joy's best tunes was easier to understand.

Vance Joy.

Vance Joy.

Most of those best tunes come from the first of Joy's two albums, 2014’s Dream Your Life Away, if audience reaction on this night was anything to go by.

Granted, we've had just six months to live with follow-up Nation of Two. But its only tracks that felt like they'd be in the setlist long-term were We’re Going Home, a rousing melody with Joy’s keening upper range adding to the drama, Lay It on Me’s surging chorus, with horn section again to the fore, and Saturday Sun’s timeless California tale.

That last one's place in the Vance Joy canon was enshrined on this night by the fact it closed the show and didn’t feel like an anticlimax after the mass singalong of Riptide.

But as listenable as was something such as the new album’s Alone With Me, we didn’t really need it when we had the gorgeous Georgia, the standout ballad from the debut that got this crowd swaying as one.

Vance Joy plays a second and final Sydney show at the Hordern Pavilion on Friday.

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