"Wafia Al-Rikabi and band take the crowd through a downtempo tour de force of 2018 pop songwriting."
Native Spirit open Howler tonight dressed like a mid-rave era Oasis, with banter that’s roughly equivalent; the clubby duo from Melbourne’s suburbs repeatedly pushing to get the party started, even if it is 8.30. Theirs is largely a four-to-the-floor set, with Moog synth lines and live electronic drum pads weaving in between pre-programmed billowing and dreamy synths. Kudos to them for actually playing the parts, even if the timing is occasionally off. “Stick around for Wafia, you’ve paid money for her...obviously,” they quip, before launching into recently released house party anthem The Other Side. Overall, nice set lads.
Fae Scott’s bedroom project Yergurl is plugging in the laptop centre stage and we can’t help noticing her sweet, Aspen ski lodge-inspired tracksuit and shiny black moon boots. The recent triple j Unearthed High finalist ploughs through her dreamy, '80s via 1999 Britney-era set with little fanfare or banter, cramming in as many tracks as possible into 35-odd minutes. Her vocal melodies and songwriting are super strong, but some different production choices occasionally could go a long way. It’s clear she enjoys her set though which is good enough for us and warmly finishes on the shit-talking, recent single Boys Think U Look PHRESH!
Thinking this was a calculated choice, as Shania Twain’s You’re Still The One blasts over Howler’s system to an uproarious singalong, Wafia’s drummer and keys player take the stage and sequence the set opener Only Love. Wafia Al-Rikabi and band take the crowd through a downtempo tour de force of 2018 pop songwriting, weaving gracefully through the first three songs before thanking the crowd. Al-Rikabi’s style tonight is that of a preppy soccer player, the keyboardist looks like a scruffy tennis player and the drummer looks ready to play golf; here’s thinking they’d be a fun morning out!
Sports jokes aside, Al-Rikabi’s vocals are honey yellow in the mid-range where she sings most of her melodies, as her higher register occasionally escapes her. Using a sampler to trigger vocals, it almost feels like a conversational feedback loop with herself, riffing the daily dramas of most early 20-somethings; relationships and love. A bass-heavy cover of Frank Ocean’s Lost comes on mid-set and the crowd are definitely on the same page, singing along as much as any other song offered tonight. Hearing new tune Wide Open is a treat, sounding as strong as any of her other singles and with some added ambience at the start and end to pad it out. From here on out it’s the hits that matter though, as the band steamroll through most of her co-written hits including Heartburn, Mario’s Let Me Love You, a live disco take on Louis The Child’s Better Not and refugee anthem Bodies. Taking the time to thank her band, merch desk and the crowd, Al-Rikabi skirts offstage before the mini encore and lead single I’m Good tears the house down. Her energy is warm and infectious this evening, charming everyone including the bar staff by the set's end with a sweet smile and some low-key dancing. It also helps that her material is brilliant. For the first show of her tour, they’ve set a high bar.