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live music review: the jezabels, hq, 3 november 2011

Adelaide has a lot to answer for (I’m allowed to say that because “Adelaideans” are my in-group). As much as we complain about musicians readily overlooking us on national tours, the support for live music also isn’t that great (a bit of a twofold problem, but that’s a dilemma for another day). But The Jezabels, who have included Adelaide on both their national tours over the last year, are one of the few to be duly rewarded by The City of Churches, selling out their November 2010 show at The Ed Castle, and now the substantially larger HQ last week.

So I didn’t really know what to expect. Who were these mythical Adelaide gig-goers who bought their tickets en masse well in advance of a show?

It turned out they were a bag of Allsorts. Young mixed with old; topknots and wifebeaters floating around in equal measure; heavy drinker and bright-eyed teens who spent hours staking out their place in the front row. These people had nothing in common, except an obvious shared love of the headliners.

Melbourne sextet, Alpine, kicked off proceedings before Hey Rosetta! hit the stage to greet the appreciative audience with their brand of The Middle East meets Ra Ra Riot sound. After the requisite wait, Heather Shannon, Nik Kaloper and Sam Lockwood, emerged to take their places on stage and begin the set. Vocalist, Hayley Mary, coolly but determinedly strode in soon after, with her hood up and looking more or less like Ellen Page in Hard Candy.

The Jezabels need no warm-up, immediately playing with the energy and spark that has earned them an envious reputation as a live band. Not-quite-latest single, ‘Endless Summer’, comes early in the set and demonstrates the paradox that makes the band so difficult to categorise: they are all dressed in black (indeed, Lockwood’s shirt has a skull and crossbones on the back) and ‘Endless Summer’ simply does not sound like a song that should be played by a band in black. They’re a little bit of indie, a little bit of dance, a little bit of pop, and just a dash of rock thrown in, but it all makes sense when they play.

The set trails through songs from Prisoner, as well as those from the trilogy of EPs they released between February 2009 and October 2010. ‘Mace Spray’ gets a deserved but predictably enthusiastic response, with a substantial proportion of audience members whipping out their cameras and phones to take away a recorded souvenir, and ‘Hurt Me’ likewise prompts more movement than the crowd’s collective sway bop that has been the dominant dance move throughout the night. They finish the official part of the set with ‘Dark Storm’ before quickly re-emerging to play ‘She’s So Hard’.

To say that there’s an “epic-ness” to The Jezabels’ songs is probably the only context in which the word ‘epic’ can be used without mockery. In addition to her beyond-impressive vocal range, Hayley Mary is also a front woman who actually performs as a front woman – she sings with her whole body, purposefully moves around the stage, communicates with the audience perfectly without the need for banter – and the band seem happy to provide her with the sturdy and passionate accompaniment we’ve come to expect and love from them.

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