"It's difficult to tell whether the location or Tembo herself is behind it, but Sampa The Great drifts effortlessly into a modern, beat-heavy sermon tonight."
There is a distinct and unavoidable sense of dissonance to a gig like this, but Marcus Whale knows how to marry these conflicts in a glorious discourse. Under the intimidating beauty of St Paul's Cathedral, Whale produces a barrage of post-industrial noise that booms and echoes through the vast space. Accompanied by just a pair of percussionists and a MIDI controller, Whale creates beautiful vocal soundscapes over clamorous beats. Stopping to admire his surroundings and wax lyrical on his "unfortunate" attraction to the image of Jesus Christ, the Sydney-based musician makes the perfect opener. The ethereal ambience of Vapour channels a spiritual depth in Whale that seems to radiate throughout the crowd, signalling just how incredible the night is set to be.
Rocking a torn-up catholic schoolgirl uniform, the inimitable Spike Fuck takes to the stage and officially begins the dance party. The genre-bending new wave/punk/country/alternative musician has ribbons of Bowie and Joan Jett throughout her performance while still remaining one of the most unique personas in the local scene. Fuck is a flawless storyteller, weaving narratives of addiction in Junkie Logic and existentialism in Guts; the singer takes vignettes from her own life and exposes them bloody and raw for all to see. Along with her newly christened band The FML (Fuck My Life), Fuck and co bring a '70s-punk flair to proceedings and breathe an air of acceptance and equality to the loving crowd.
With the punters well and truly warmed up, The Harpoons take that energy and kick it into overdrive. Bouncing on the back of some killer soul beats, singer Bec Rigby astounds from the moment she steps out on stage. With the words "CLOSE MANUS NOW" emblazoned across her dress, Rigby ensures the comfort and inclusion of her crowd before belting out the most incredible high notes and vocal peaks. Blending R&B, neo-soul and a smattering of good vibes, The Harpoons are unrivalled positivity and good old-fashioned chutzpah. Their recent single Do You Want My Love floors the late-night crowd, while Can We Work This Out inspires the first mass-singalong of the evening. It's truly a marvel to think this evening will only get better from here.
Fortunes may slow things down a little on the music side, but their dynamic showmanship ensures the audience is still raring to go. Frontman Conor McCabe seems to manage eye contact with everyone in the crowd, hypnotising the punters with his dreamy vocal lines. Producer Barnaby Matthews stays behind the decks for most of the performance, but his grooving and soulful art-pop beats do not go unnoticed. Bringing the old-school croon of Stevie Wonder bang into the 21st century, Fortunes mix hip hop and funk for a melodic and heart-clutching performance. Closing with a killer Gnarls Barkley cover, Who's Gonna Save My Soul leaves the crowd hyped-up and begging for more.
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It may be after midnight when Sampa The Great takes to the stage, but the audience are only just getting started. As the band lifts into a harmonic jazz refrain, Sampa Tembo walks into the spotlight, dressed in white with arms outstretched to her loving revellers. As the music continues, Tembo delivers an almost poetic welcome to country, displaying her faultless balance of talented and down to earth.
It's difficult to tell whether the location or Tembo herself is behind it, but Sampa The Great drifts effortlessly into a modern, beat-heavy sermon tonight. Her messages of love and spirituality are in abundance as she serenades her congregation, preaching "Are you here? Are you present?" to her newly converted. Drawing extensively from the incredible Birds And The BEE9 mixtape, Tembo and her band drop fluently in and out of rap, soul, gospel and even elements of rock. Black Girl Magik sends out the good vibes to her fellow women of colour, advocating a greater message while still being a chunky mix of drums and synths. Tembo spits lines at a ridiculous pace, but always manages to make every word count. This is not only a religious experience, it's also a masterclass in rap and urban poetry.
With Karma The Villain taking out MVP for the night, Sampa The Great cements herself in the etches of local legend status. Lines like "God is here" and "reality's what you make it" take on new meanings under the roof of this epic Cathedral. Tembo's greatness is not just an expectation by name, it's a bona fide guarantee.