In just two days following the news of a depressing/tumultuous/highly emotional U.S. presidential election, Australian band The Jezabels sent their love out into the audience.
“San Fran, we’re mourning for you,” lead singer Hayley Mary said.
“It’s hard for us not to acknowledge it,” Mary continued in her clear Australian accent to a rather subdued crowd. “But there’s always hope. We know you’ll get through this. The world depends on you.”
Sweet, humble and with minimal banter, it was clear Mary was used to commanding the stage. But without being overly obnoxious, pretentious or even awkward, her presence along with the rest of her bandmates (Heather Shannon on keyboard, Samuel Lockwood on lead guitar and Nik Kaloper on drums) was warm, comfortable and inviting. It seems the band has found their stride, and in San Francisco’s intimate 500-capacity music hall The Independent, their ambient, atmospheric synth-pop drove the crowd forward.
Known for their instrumentally energetic and powerful indie “grand rock” melodies, the Sydney-based band has been on the scene since the late 00s, releasing numerous EPs and receiving indie cred throughout Australia, Europe and America. The release of their third LP Synthia in February of this year is quite the comeback (and marks their first tour in America).
Reminding me of a modern day Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), lead singer Hayley Mary is provocative and powerful onstage. She came in her form-fitting pants and black leather jacket, complete with a red “Be My Holiday” rose on the back.
Whereas other bands try too hard to be emotional, angsty, fun or dance-worthy, this band makes you feel all those things without it even seeming like they’re trying. They gently lead you into a feel-good frenzy and freedom to dance, or lend an emotional heart-stopping moment with Mary’s vocals piercing through the air. Her strong, powerful vocals are prominent as she lets the lyrics linger in the air and drive the songs forward against sometimes haunting, most-times uplifting atmospheric sounds.
Mary’s energy is completely infectious. Thrusting her hips and dancing across the stage, she goes into an exuberant dance from their disco-worthy tunes (“Look Of Love” is a disco epic) and loses herself into a fitting head-bang (“Long Highway” makes for a chilling and strong climax). Guitarist Lockwood is seen playing his guitar with lots of drive, fuzz and spacey shoegaze sounds that pair well against Shannon’s airy synths and Kaloper’s highly rhythmic fills.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t too familiar with this band’s music prior to attending, but as the live performance is often an indicator of a great artist, The Jezabels’s performance won me over.
Their catchy indie-pop songs are filled with a lot of heart. Mary is able to take her voice from a strong chest-ridden vocal to a soft, siren-filled falsetto seamlessly. I left with a sense of pure love and joy for music–light pop melodies and catchy hooks tinged with elements of melodramatic alt-rock progressions.
Although The Jezabels’s material can be dense (2011’s debut album Prisoner shows much of that), 2014’s follow-up album The Brink bears much of the lighter, poppier elements that, when played live, brings an element of positivity, hope and optimism to the air. With the latest Synthia, The Jezabels delivers all of that dense complexity through songs driven by lust, longing, fear and feminism (“Smile” is a patient electronic-pop pleaser that nods upon her experiences as a woman, as Mary quietly mumbles, “Oh turn me on,” only to go into a rage-fitting, “Don’t tell me to smile / You don’t own me”).
The Jezebels is definitely a band I wish I had listened to sooner. Their songs are full of hope, light and the kind of pain that goes with experience and maturity. Their soft synths and driving percussions are infectious and make Hayley Mary’s crystal-clear voice cut through their records like a powerful siren. And when a performer is able to emit that kind of energy and feeling into an audience… That’s something I find highly enjoyable.