"Song after song, most of them from her acclaimed 2019 album 'Anak Ko', send the audience into raptures."
A sold-out crowd is already tightly packed by the time that Gena Rose Bruce and her four-piece band arrive on stage to win over those not already fans. The inventive drumming of Sebi White, choogling basslines of Eddy Dillon and clean lead guitar lines of Cordy Crosbie set off Bruce’s smoky voice and careful strumming.
Their set, largely taken from last year’s album Can’t Make You Love Me, shows a welcome disregard for genre as songs move from country-pop (Rearview) through indie-rock and dream-pop to soul ballads (I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You) to flirting with minimalist techno (Revive). While there is nothing revolutionary here, it’s a small mercy to find someone just being good rather than trying to adopt facades of newness. Bruce’s songs move with an energy that makes them an essential addition to any Spotify playlist made for driving, and her show makes a strong pitch for the mid-afternoon slot of a summer music festival.
“We’re from the States, in California,” says Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som. “This is our last show in Australia and I think it’s sold out so this is insane,” she laughs as the audience cheers. We all seem extremely happy to have put this rapidly ascending singer-songwriter in a good mood at the outset of her show. A show that proves not to be insane at all, but in fact a close encounter with someone who seems very in control of their feelings as they channel them into some extremely captivating songs.
From the moment Duterte moves to the microphone to sing the opening lyrics of If You Want It, her lower lip almost touching it, the (surprisingly diverse) audience are collectively won over. The audience moves together so well to the deft melodies, looping bass riffs, swooning guitars and intimate drummings - the pull is irresistible. Song after song, most of them from her acclaimed 2019 album Anak Ko, send the audience into raptures.
The swaggering pop of Baybee gives way to the album’s delicate last single, the Yo La Tengo-esque Nighttime Drive, and the shaker-driven pop rush of Peace Out - all of which are sublime in the extreme, but none of which compare to Superbike, with its Cocteau Twins-style harmonies and monolithic shoegaze outro. “We’re a bunch of jet-lagged babies up here,” says Duterte, though if anything sleepiness renders these songs even more potent. After anticipating the “cute accents” of the crowd’s vocal contribution to The Bus Song, and expressing her deep gratitude for coming out to see her instead of “you know, clubbing”, the set is wound up with Crown, new single A Thousand Words and Lipstick Stains. The last shows just how talented her band are, each given a chance to shine without ever detracting from Duterte’s songs or becoming self-indulgent. It’s a balancing act, beautifully pulled off.