Last night I went to see Australian brother-sister duo Angus and Julia Stone play at the Civic Theatre in Auckland. It was such a polished show I couldn’t fault it. The pair had made their way to New Zealand for their first show across the ditch. Something the audience made clear they were pleased had finally happened with regular backhanded compliments commending them for eventually getting here. I’m pleased to say it was a gig worth waiting for.
The folk-rock pair have recently released a new self-titled album together after breaking up for a while and each producing solo records. The time apart has grown them both as artists. This is the first album in which they have written most of the songs together and it’s brilliant. During their set last night their new songs were the standouts. The way they work together in these tunes is so fresh and funky, the sound is so much stronger when they sing together rather than just backing one another. This was evident in A Heartbreak and From the Stalls. Each of these offerings was performed with a magnificent energy which had me perching on my seat grinning and tapping my feet.
The dream-team supported each other beautifully. I’m sure a lot of that comes from being siblings. They had such a lovely dynamic on stage. They teased each other, laughed with the audience, took a step back and listened and appreciated each other’s sound and looked genuinely so proud of each other. In Yellow Brick Road Julia let Angus own his song, a real crowd favourite, before picking up the electric guitar at the climax of the tune and amazing us all with a stellar solo. We also saw this in reverse when a crowd requested to hear The Wedding Song was listened to. Julia asked Angus not to desert her as he left the stage, but she didn’t need him and he knew it. She owned this song, she sang with such clarity and showcased the beautiful lyrics. Ben Edgar’s lap steel solo was chilling. It was a stunning moment in the show.
In the middle of the set came a fantastic cover of You’re the One That I Want from Grease. It was a slowed down, stripped back take on the jazzy classic but was still just as sexy as Olivia Newton-John’s take thanks to Julia’s sensual dance moves and the variance in her vocal tones.
Julia won me over. Before the concert I’d said to friends that I thought Angus was the real star of the duo. I thought Julia’s very unique baby-voice wasn’t always necessary in some songs, in fact I thought it almost invaded some times. Boy was I wrong. She took to the stage with so much sass and was easily the star of the show. She stood out next to Angus who is obviously shy and slinked back on stage a lot, letting his sister take control of the audience. But don’t get me wrong, Angus was still incredibly compelling as a performer.
The culmination of their show was during their last three songs when their vocals sent a chill across the room. The set was finished with Heart Beats Slow, a lovely track from the new album which features verses in which the siblings take turns singing a line each before coming together in the chorus. Julia takes the higher harmony while Angus smoothly carries the undertone.
After being rapturously applauded back on stage for an encore Julia thanked the band for their stunning contributions. She played particular tribute to the new drummer who has really added something fresh to their sound with his creative beats. The percussion was such a key part to the show and really stood out as it was accompanied with a fantastic light show in many tracks.
The group began their encore with a cover of The Nationals Bloodbuzz Ohio which was full of beautiful harmonies before going out on Santa Monica Dream. The band left Angus and Julia to it on their own and within seconds they had everyone in the crowd silenced (and I think many close to tears ). They sang a soft but passionate version of the song from their Down The Way album. It was simply magical and I never wanted it to finish. I wanted to curl up in a blanket and have them sing it over and over again until I fell asleep. The ultimate lullaby.
At the end of that the audience was straight on their feet for a standing ovation you’d rarely witness these days. We were all completely sold, these guys better stay true to their promise and return to New Zealand soon because that was a concert too good to not relive.