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Live Review: Henry Wagons, Leah Senior, Gena Rose Bruce

16 May 2016 | 2:28 pm | Joe Dolan

"His sincerity and self-referential nature - declaring himself a "hairy idiot tossbag" - is what saves him."

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Softly spoken Gena Rose Bruce graces the stage with her ethereal presence, but the powerful tones coming from this tiny body surprise and delight the audience. A hearty blend of jangle-pop and alt-folk, Bruce clearly has a sophisticated understanding of tonality and instrumentation. While her breathy vocal style makes it difficult to decipher lyrics at times, Bruce employs unusual but satisfying riffs and lines to enthrall her captive crowd. Bruce is a unique talent and EP title track Mad Love cements her place in our hearts tonight.

Leah Senior's turn comes next, but something doesn't feel quite right from the outset. Senior displays phenomenal technical abilities, but the singer/guitarist seems somewhat uncomfortable as a soloist. What would've been far more appropriate as the first opening act, Senior's minimalist energy is an unsettling dip in tone for the evening. Tracks show that Senior has what it takes and deserves to be up on stage, but her shyness and repetitive musicality fails to hold the audience's attention. Had these first two acts been switched, the evening's progression would've better complemented the artists.

A cocktail of Tex Perkins and Elvis goes someway to explaining the suave Henry Wagons, but the Melbourne alt-country star is far more than that. Wagons staggers out in his signature gold jacket and sunnies, initially looking more game show host than muso. However, his unparalleled energy immediately takes over the moment his backing band The Only Children kick into gear. Wagons banters between every song, his knack for humour and storytelling making this a show in itself, and accompaniment from pianist Skylar Wilson makes the speech components run smoothly. Hearing tales about the singer's solo record being made in Nashville contextualises tracks such as Head Or Heart and Tomboy, which amplifies the enjoyment of the performance in a way most musicians can only dream of achieving. Wagons displays a certain arrogance and showmanship that would be offputting in other performers, but his sincerity and self-referential nature — declaring himself a "hairy idiot tossbag" — is what saves him. The only real problem with Wagons is that he is so consistently lively that the show lacks dynamics. Nevertheless, Wagons is an absolute joy to watch as he serenades the crowd with an ode to his hometown, Melbourne.