Having already heard the song and some of the hype, we had snapped up the 10 euro tickets to their show on the small stage at Paradiso without much thought. However by the time the show came around, Riptide had won Triple J’s Hottest 100 (“the world’s biggest musical democracy”) and the band had been signed a 5 album deal with Atlantic Records in the US.
Needless to say I was pretty excited for to see them for myself and try and understand what all the hype was about, although with only the 5 song EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing to their name it was tough to know what to really expect for an entire show.
For those still uninitiated, Vance Joy is essentially James Keogh, a 25 year-old Melbourne singer-songwriter who plays acoustic guitar and ukulele. Tonight in Amsterdam he would be backed by a 3 piece band, with bass, drums and keyboard.
First, let’s start with the good….
The Paradiso, Klein Zaal was packed. And not just with some drunken Aussies, but almost entirely with young Dutch women. This had the added benefit of creating an unusually short crowd, although of course we still managed to end up standing behind a couple of 8 foot Dutch giants.
Riptide really is a killer track and deserves its place in the footnotes of music history. It was the final song of the set and what had been an interested but not overly attentive crowd suddenly came to life. It took me completely by surprise when almost everyone, including the 8 foot giants, started to sing-along word for word from the opening lines of the song.
I am still not sure how they all even knew the song, although I am starting to hear it around town more and more, so perhaps these kids just had their fingers on the pulse of new music?
I think I would be generous if I said the set went for any more than 45 minutes.
I know they only have the one EP of material, but you would think they are working on something more for these 5 albums? Or how about a couple of covers, something to get the kids excited before you get to the big hit?
Or, how about a bit of jamming with the band rather than just running through each song almost exactly like it sounds on the record? This one I think I know the answer to, and that is that they, or more specifically James, isn’t a good enough musician.
I make that claim as someone who can’t play guitar to save his life but who has seen some fantastic live guitarists over the years. And this was confirmed by our American partner in crime on the night, who claimed he was a better guitarist than the guy he had just paid to see. So while the rest of the band looked like they were pretty capable, at the end of the day you are only as good as your leader and wherever he chooses to take you musically.
And the ugly…
There is no nice way to spin this – Mr. Keogh forgot the words to one of his main songs. Not once, but twice.
He only has 5 recorded songs. And his only real job is to show up to places and play them.
It started when he could not remember the opening lines of Snaggletooth, which I would say is the second best song on the EP behind Riptide. The band had to stop and one of them called out the lines to him but he was able to make a joke about it and the crowd responded pretty warmly to the situation.
However three quarters of the way through the song, he lost it again. And again the whole band came to a stop, but this time he knew had lost the crowd. He jokingly pointed out that you can stuff up once and make a joke out of it but twice and everyone thinks you’re a dick.
He was exactly right. I am not sure if he was just having a bad night, but this combined with everything else and he just came across as amazingly amateur.
All up it was an enjoyable 45 minutes and certainly worth the 10 euro.
As for the hype, it was hard to see exactly where he is going. Maybe he is still finding his live performers feet and over the next 12 months he will hone his skills and develop more material. If he can write some more songs as catchy as Riptide and with a record label like Atlantic behind, he could be a pop force to be reckoned with. He certainly had the look and the sound to excite a room full of young Dutch women.
But he could also find himself playing that song over and over and over again until he just can’t take it anymore. He wouldn’t be the first person to have written the right song at the right time and have it carry him out of his musical depth.
He certainly has an amazing opportunity in front of him and I hope he has the right people around him to turn that into something special.