Hackney Round Chapel, venue of beauty and mystery: ‘why is it so hard to find?’, ‘why is it so cold?’, ‘why is it round on the outside and rectangular inside?’ – such questions uttered all around as seats were quietly taken in the high-ceilinged, sold-out chapel for tonight’s show, the last night of a very long tour for Matt Corby and his band. I hold only a half-formed first impression, comprising of the following facts: he’s Australian, his shows sell out very quickly, he once came second on Australian Idol and he’s only 22. No amount of time spent watching YouTube videos of him singing could have prepared me for what lies ahead this evening.
But first come Bear’s Den. Bedecked in beards, checked shirts and leather jackets, the trio work through their first EP, a sorrowful collection of songs full of loss and hindsight that seem at odds with their cheerful composure and quips to the audience between songs. Lead singer and guitarist Andrew Davie expresses the band’s gratitude for the hush that has overcome the room, and it’s only then that I notice the complete absence of obnoxious chatter that usually accompanies the support act’s set. Maybe I was too busy crying at the subject matter to do so before. Bad Blood, Mother and Pompeii are particularly heart-grasping, and in the latter the banjo is played more darkly than ever before in the history of the world.
A short break follows and before long Corby appears alone, lit in white while all around is drenched in blue, and opens the show with with Big Eyes. The rest of the band join and take to bass, keyboard, drums and electric guitar as they plunge into Kings, Queens, Beggars and Thieves. Watery reflections are cast onto the ceiling above the band, and when things get really instrumental, purple strobe lights scan through the audience as bright gold floodlights backlight the musicians. I find myself wondering if lights and music could ever be better used to each other’s advantage when Runaway upstages everything that’s gone before and white strobe lights gleam and strike upwards over the organ behind the stage. Lack of familiarity with the setlist matters not, as the music-and-lights show soon renders us all incapable of sensible thought anyway.
Corby introduces his band and explains the significance of this show after having “played everywhere. We’re gonna play some music now, like we always do…except to you”. Made of Stone begins with a deceptively timid piano and a slow escalation as the band joins in, until Corby’s octave-defying falsetto soars with disarming zeal and brings it to a close. This lays the ground perfectly for the opening wolf-howls of Brother, a performance which I can only describe as off. the. hook.
The band leave and re-enter with shots of whiskey in hand and cheers each other in salute to an emotional and long tour together. The ardor with which My False is played lends itself to the gravity of the moment and lyric matter: ‘theres a guilty weight on my conscience/of all my wrongful deeds/it’s time to reconcile’. An over-hyped pop career shunned in his teens in favour of heart-and-soul music, a voice that defies comparison (ironically, a lot like Jeff Buckley) and lyricism that resonates with our humanness all make Matt Corby a brightly burnished prospect in the saturated world of the singer-songwriter.