“We are about to bring Shamir’s ratchet ass to the stage.”
Well, it’s about damn time.
Not that Shamir Bailey is running late, but it’d be a safe bet that most people standing in Howler’s band room right now have been waiting for him to grace an Australian stage for a good couple of years. His backing vocalist / hype girl’s voice comes through layered in the voice altering distortion that appears throughout the Las Vegas native’s debut LP (and one of the best pop releases of the past 12 months) Ratchet and it ensures that anticipation levels set to high. Shamir, with a newly shaved head and an outfit colour coordinated right down to the fingernails, makes his way over to the microphone, diving into his first Australian set with album opener Vegas. “Come and play, there’s no place you would rather be…” We may not actually be in Vegas, but Shamir and co do a damn good job of setting the pace for the coming hour or so from the get-go.
Singles and bonafide bangers In For The Kill and On The Regular are quick to follow, ensuring that the party that was promised is well and truly underway. It seems a little early in the set for the song Shamir jokingly teases he almost didn’t play, but perhaps that is all part of the plan. On The Regular all but closes Ratchet but right now, he’s giving people what they want early on and in return he gets a sweaty, beaming, excitable audience ready for whatever is coming next.
“They say I’m a big party machine…” There is perhaps no truer line in a Shamir song than this from Make A Scene – even if hopes of glitter confetti and glow sticks have been dashed. Whoever “they” are, they’re not wrong. The set isn’t perfect and there are a few moments where voices falter or aren’t quite audible over the band, but perfection isn’t what we’re here for, we’re here to dance and Shamir leaves little room for energy to slump. Even his mid-set ballad, Darker, sends a buzz through the room and we are reminded that Shamir isn’t just here to dance, he’s got the chops to go a little deeper than that. Shamir plays guitar (which he points out humorously) and he can reach those impressively high notes on stage just as well as in the studio.
Shamir’s charm is affable, though occasionally there is a hint of nervousness which comes through between songs. Through this, we are reminded that Shamir is only 21 years old and that this is one of his very first headline shows outside of the United States. Still, he is far from a hot mess up on that stage; conversely the song Hot Mess itself is particularly hypnotic with its funk, house-tinged pop.
Were it not already a confirmed firm fan favourite, it may have come as a surprise that amidst all the party-starters and frenzied dance numbers, Demon, a pure pop proclamation of co-dependency, was the standout of the set. By a long shot. In the live setting, Demon grows into something even more wonderful than the album version. It’s a beastly display of Shamir’s vocal range, which reaches it’s peak during an improvised, extended version of the bridge.
Call It Off is the kind of song that makes the room feel much bigger than it is, filling the entire space and ensuring that the energy from early in the set has continues right through to the end tail. There are a few moments where certain notes seem just out of reach for the singer, but that certainly doesn’t overshadow all the things that are going right here. The word cacophony is probably the best to describe Call It Off in a live setting, except all the sounds work together rather than against one another. Head In The Clouds, all cowbells, zippy sound effects and keys, starts to wind things down quickly after.
Realising he has time for one more song, Shamir poses a decision to the audience: do we want a ballad or do we want to dance? There is a minute or two of confusion on the performer’s part until he eventually takes a poll. Dance it is. KC -as someone in the crowd insists- would have provided Darker, which was played earlier, with some balance. However, no one seems to be complaining once Sometimes A Man, from the Northtown EP starts. In retrospect, pulsating disco-house-pop might have actually been the perfect note to end on. There’s no encore, but with the band holding down the fort on stage, Shamir makes the short leap onto the dancefloor to join in on the fun to be had from other side of the stage until the music ends and the lights come up.
Shamir is currently touring for Laneway. If you’re headed to the festival, do yourself a massive favour and catch his set. He has one remaining sideshow:
Thursday, 11th February: Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (18+)
Laneway Dates and venues:
Friday 5 February – Harts Mill, Port Adelaide (16+)
Saturday 6 February – Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane (16+)
Sunday 7 February – Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney
Saturday 13 February – Footscray Community Arts Centre And The River’s Edge, Melbourne
Sunday 14 February – Esplanade Reserve and West End, Fremantle
Info and tix here