Live Review: Two Steps On The Water, Totally Mild, Boats

18 October 2017 | 9:38 am | Ellen Hewitt

"The shared experience of pain is palpable; you can feel it on your skin."

Howler is nearly filled to the brim with excited patrons when doors open at 8pm. Before the first band even take the stage, the crowd is buzzing with excitement. Two Steps On The Water fans are a special kind of fan, you can see it in their eyes: this music is meaningful to them.

As Boats, the first support act, take their place the audience congregate towards the front, intrigued by the eclectic mix of instruments they have in hand: piano accordion and cello to name a couple. Boats expertly set the tone for the night, delivering that "emotion punk" affection that Two Steps On The Water have defined themselves by.

Last minute ring-ins Totally Mild boast strong, ethereal vocals. Their interesting harmonies meld beautifully with surf-inspired guitar, which equates to an energetic and capable band that leave the audience wanting more. 

But the crowd howls loudest as Two Steps On The Water appear on stage. By this point, the room is packed.  Everyone is so fixated on June Jones that, for the first time tonight, there is no line at the bar. They start gradually, playing songs that remind us of their past work. As the set progresses it is easy to recognise how far this band have come since their first album, God Forbid Anyone Look Me In The Eye. Jones has always been a raw, captivating performer with idiosyncratic lyrics that somehow still feel universal. The rest of the band play emotionally driven folk-punk in a way that is certainly unique and ear catching. Musically, though, Sword Songs totally exceeds expectation. Adding organ as well as members from "Melbourne Sympathy Orchestra" (as Jones names them) on saxophone and various other brass instruments has really enriched their sound. This gives the band the opportunity to be much more dynamic in both their songwriting and live performance, and they have real edge tonight as they launch the new album.

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Although most of the set is brilliantly performed, nothing takes us by surprise as much as their new single Hold Me. With the first few haunting chords on the organ, Jones begins to slowly walk around the stage, her long black dress flowing behind her as she half-glides, half-trudges in circles, conjuring some sort of religious imagery. As she continues this slow, disconcerting motion, she sings, her voice straining from overwhelming emotion as the song progresses. She sounds unspeakably sad as she cries, "When it feels just like a candle standing lonesome on the shore/And won't you hold my branches as they burn out in the flames". The crowd is silent as they watch this eerily captivating performance. The shared experience of pain is palpable; you can feel it on your skin. The audience is still, they cry and hold each other. And as Two Steps On The Water finish, the crowd is truly bewitched, counting themselves lucky to have witnessed such a memorable live performance.