Live Review: Thee Sacred Souls, Setwun & La Foxy Fuzz @ City Recital Hall, Sydney

16 March 2024 | 10:25 am | Shaun Colnan

Singer Josh Lane possesses the character of a minister, speaking to the 1200 fans as if addressing each and every one of them.

Thee Sacred Souls

Thee Sacred Souls (Credit: Ebru Yildiz)

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Soul has certainly had a long tradition as a genre that can’t fully be contained. It often provides the generic basis for profound expressions of human nature, whether it be love or loss. It’s the sort of music reliant on stunning vocals and the certainty of particular chord progressions and rhythms. You might say it’s been done to death.

Yet, the aptly named Californian band Thee Sacred Souls seems to have revived the genre in a necromantic fashion, continuing a sparse trend that includes Leon Bridges, St Paul And The Broken Souls, Allen Stone, and The Teskey Brothers

This is, however, the most saccharine of the lot. Yet, there’s something in this incredibly simple lyricism - that might well have been AI-generated - that excites. Singer Josh Lane’s opening address - “Please feel free to stand up and come to the front” - was barely uttered before a crowd of mainly young women moved to the stage. 

Adorned in a dazzling shimmer fabric shirt and oversized suit pants, Lane charms with his blistering falsetto and trendily dressed backup singers who bop along to the music as a litany of the latest iPhones flash—all in response to the opening track, Overflowing. With lines like, “I used to be so empty, But, girl, my heart is overflowing,” it’s no wonder they’ve garnered so much attention. Jimmy Kimmel even had them on his show in 2022.

High-pitched woos were a staple of audience engagement at this sold-out show. Lane possesses the character of the evangelical minister, speaking to the 1200 fans as if addressing each and every one of them personally when he says, “If you know this one, please help me out.”

Such is the power of this simple music; you hear it once and know almost every line. This was no doubt the case on the next track, Will I See You Again?

Drummer Alex Garcia (who remarks on the band’s website, “Every step of the way has just been so organic”) taps along while the other bandmates play along with little movement, pounding out one sweet soul song after the next as Lane struts about.

He says, “We’d like to dedicate the rest of this set to everyone who believes that love is a way of life,” before dipping into Love Is The Way, a song with nothing to hide and little to add beyond its title. 

Lane’s crowd work was impeccable - and why not? When you have young people waving their arms and wooing at you, how could it not be? To keep the love-fest going, he decrees: “I’d like to take a poll. Let’s turn the lights on the audience. How many of you are having a romantic moment with someone right now? That seems to be about 37% of you.”

This is the perfect premise for the band to segue into Easier Said Than Done, which hooks you in with the pre-chorus, “'Cause true love, it ain't easy, no” - strange when only a few songs later, Lane sings Love Comes Easy.

Perhaps there’s some nuance I’m missing, but they seem like antithetical sentiments. Of course, that’s possible and sensible, for that matter. It’s just that when it’s delivered with such homogeneity, it feels less than organic.

Lane reflects, “Whether it’s the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end, you gonna learn something either way.” The lulls between songs were peppered with such rehearsed insights that kept the crowd with him. The atmosphere seemed heady and exuberant, like the City Recital Hall had been pumped full of happy gas.

On Let Me Feel Your Charm, Lane even popped out between the backup singers and seemed to float towards the crowd, an almost disembodied sweetness wafting through the air, carried on his mellifluous notes.

A dual drum solo at the end of that song led to more buttering up of the crowd: “I don’t want to make the rest of Australia jealous, but this would be the best audience we’ve had.” Another woo. Then Lane said, “I’ve got a question for my light friend: can you make every light in this place blue? I’m about to sing a sad song… I’ve been on this planet for 34 years, and I’ve had equal opportunity to be protagonist and antagonist in my life.”

This heralded For Now, with lines like “I can't help but wonder if you fit this world I see”, might make an analytical listener wonder the very same thing. It’s hard to place this highly derivative music, which has been lauded by Daptone Records and many other big names in music. It’s hard to see a flurry of phone torches like fireflies buzzing around Angel Place.

Perhaps it’s just a subjective cynicism. Maybe it’s best to see it for what it is. Optimism and simplicity in a dark world; an elixir or at least temporary escape from what they mention in the track Sorrow For Tomorrow, dedicated to Lane’s cousins who died in a car accident and to senseless gun violence in Sacramento, respectively, as well as the men, women and children killed in Palestine. 

A young woman yells out free Palestine. Someone expels sweet-smelling vapour.

“Let the floodgates open, and let the healing begin,” Lane instructs.

Earlier, local artist Setwun played to early arrivals to lighten the atmosphere. The multi-instrumentalist and DJ Josh Panakera-Molony, AKA Setwun, charms with his dulcet and groovy keys. He’s really making a name for himself in the Australian scene, and—as Thee Sacred Souls said—he well deserves it.

DJ La Foxy Fuzz also brought the vibe in the foyer with banging tracks that welcomed and warmed up the spirited supporters of the sweet soul sound.