REVIEW: How Matt Corby Made 2000 People Shut Up

When Matt Corby was forced to cancel his appearance at the Enmore Theatre back in April due to ill health, the sound of hearts shattering around the city of Sydney was deafening. His long-awaited and incredibly dense debut album Telluric had captivated audiences around the country with its unique funk flavor, and if reports were to be believed, he was in the form of his life onstage. Such was the expectation which hung in the air in Sydney on Wednesday night, with fans lining up and down Enmore Road and into back alleyways, hoping desperately that the teen heart-throb turned genuine musical superstar would appear and woo their collective hearts.

Before this was possible however, 19-year-old newcomer Kita Alexander attempted to win over a new batch of fans from the sizeable throng already assembled. Given a surprisingly engaged and interested audience to work with, Alexander floated through a set of blissed-out indie rock, backed by an incredibly tight yet discreet backing band. The definition of “chill”, Alexander appeared completely at home on the stage, smiling to herself and moving through the set at steady pace. Concluding her set with the beachy Like You Want To, Alexander brought a calm and positive atmosphere to the room, successfully breaking the ice and preparing the audience for what was to come.

With the theatre full to the brim, the house lights dimmed and a relaxed looking Matt Corby, supported by a five piece band, strolled onto the stage. With Matt offering the audience a casual “Hello”, the group slid straight into Belly Side Up, casting a spell over the entire venue in the process. With an acute awareness of groove and musical texture, Matt and co. captivated the audience with the sheer smoothness of the performance. Transitioning seamlessly into Knife Edge, and again into Did You No Harm, one felt as though they had descended into a musical dream world, with the soft lighting, crisp sound and fat kick-drum/bass guitar combo transporting the listener in another universe.

Taking a break from the new record, Matt dropped 2014’s hit single Resolution early on, snapping the audience awake and inspiring the first sing along of the night. What this reaction revealed was that unlike earlier music, the newer material of Telluric wasn’t designed for easy listening. It was meant for slow digestion, to be watched, thought over and analysed. This was exemplified by the performance of Wrong Man immediately after Resolution, with the audience not falling back into a bored daze, but rather understanding that to enjoy the experience, they needed to take a back seat and let the sounds surround them. Sooth Lady Wine further emphasised this juxtaposition between new and old, with the psychedelic grooves of the song turning the Enmore into a beach shack, albeit one which was inhabited by world-class musicians and a transfixed group of punters.

Throughout the night Matt’s vocal performance was nothing short of spectacular. Exercising incredible control, Matt nailed the melodies of Monday and Oh oh oh to a T, exploring the limits of his vocal range with spontaneity. What struck me however was that at times, things appeared a little too easy for both Matt and the band. The transitions were perfect, the music even more so, but what the performance lacked was the energy and passion of a performer giving their all. With hands in pockets for a majority of the show, Matt shrugged off the adoration and barely cracked a smile, choosing instead to close his eyes and allowing the show to take its natural course.

This was most evident by the mechanical way in which the band went about the process of encores, walking offstage and literally performing a u-turn to come back and close the show. But stage antics, banter and constant “thank you’s!” are not what the audience wanted to see. Fans of Corby wanted to hear his music performed faithfully to the recording, and by god did he do it justice. Ending the night with the one-two combo of Why Dream and Empires of Attraction, Corby provided the Enmore with a musical masterclass, showing just how high the bar is for performers wanting to move beyond the constraints of reality TV.

Leaving the theatre felt like awakening from a dream. Had that dream been mechanically constructed and rehearsed? Yes. Was there anything special about the experiences shared by the audience that wouldn’t be systematically repeated for countless others around the globe? Probably not. But was it an experience that one could forget easily? Not in a million years.

Matt Corby will be appearing at Splendour In The Grass in July. Find details here.

IMAGE: Music Feeds