Photographs by Hannah Jor.
Australia’s Vance Joy happens to look like a Tiger Beat pin-up so you could be forgiven for questioning his songwriting chops. In spite of his easy charm and relative youth, or maybe because of it, he is out to prove himself. With only one EP and one full-length album to his name, Joy has toured constantly over the last two years and steadily built a following along with his confidence, stage presence and stage production.
The crowd at the first of two sold-out shows at Toronto’s historic Massey Hall was diverse and devoted. Those who arrived early were treated to a terrific band called Reuben and the Dark. The five-piece from Calgary has supported Vance Joy through the first leg of his “The Fire and the Flood” tour. Their Mumford and Sons style folk-rock played well to a room of young swooners and bearded hipsters.
When Vance Joy walked onto the stage, the entire floor section rose to their feet and remained standing the next hour. The stage design had Joy standing downstage in the spotlight. His five bandmembers, quite literally stood well behind him, each dressed in a dark shirt that melted into the backdrop leaving no doubt as to who the was the star of this night.
Joy started off with This Mess is Mine, a radio-friendly song that has had considerable airplay in the last year. He then moved to Red Eye, a song about lovers separated by a vast land, something relatable for both Canadians and Australians. His onstage banter came easily; before the next tune, Joy related a tale of an open mic night when he first played one of his own songs, Winds of Change, in public. He’d bolstered his courage with white wine because he’d seen the Kings of Leon drink wine when they performed, but all it did was dry his throat. Lesson learned.
Joy made his way through his catalogue with most of the audience singing along to every song. His songs have catchy, sweet melodies and earnest lyrics about love, loss, and longing – universal in appeal and experience. Joy traded his guitar for a ukulele on a couple of songs, notably the smash hit Riptide, a song that clearly changed the course of his life. Backstage, before the show, his label had presented him with a platinum album, an admirable achievement in today’s music industry.
Toward the end of the concert, Joy played a cover of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, which was studded with the horn riff and chorus from Omi’s Cheerleader – a clever nod to influences, new and old. And like a parting kiss, the artist left his ardent fans with his current hit, The Fire and the Flood. Songwriting chops? You bet.