Photographs by Sarah Rix.
While you probably won’t recognize the name Vance Joy right away you most definitely have heard his music. Vance Joy, whose real name is James Keogh is a one-man singer songwriter from Australia who accomplished what few artists manage to do, have a zeitgeist song with Riptide.
The tall slender man with a mess of hair had two headlining shows at The Phoenix Saturday evening, one at 5 PM and a second at 8PM. You wonder why an artist might do something like that. Why not just have one large show at a venue like Sound Academy where earlier this year I caught him opening for Young The Giant. Early on in his set he remarked “Thank you for coming out. It’s a big room but it feels really intimate” which explained perfectly what he wanted to do. Keogh’s voice is bittersweet and wispy with just the right inflection to make it seem like he is singing directly to you. There isn’t anyone in the room, so why not pick a venue that creates that atmosphere. Normally all ages shows means the crowd is most 16-18 year olds, but Vance Joy really does bring people of all ages together. I saw numerous families with small children probably at their first concert, teenaged girls in little squealing packs and middle aged couples there for a romantic date night.
The trend seemed that the mostly female crowd cheered louder when Keogh switched from his acoustic guitar to the ukulele. During songs he would talk to the audience about his inspiration for songs and what they mean to him but unfortunately, because he is so soft spoken in his demeanor it was next to impossible to hear what he was saying. I was in the front row of the balcony and while the first ten rows would laugh and cheer after his sentiments no one else could make out why. Some girls beside asked each other what they heard, with none of them being able to give a sufficient answer. Keogh has the relaxed vibe of an Aussie Jack Johnson; where he doesn’t allow the weight of the world to bring him down.
Vance Joy’s drummer was a standout musically, as his beats created a great atmosphere for the quiet and personal guitar playing. It sounded like he was a part of an orchestra creating fills that sound epic and grand. Keogh’s musings took a funny turn when he explained that “If anyone compliments your hair, it lifts your soul” which is hard to disagree with. Some songs had effortless clap alongs, which is the crux of his poppy style. He inspires toe tapping and head bobbing making it hard not to smile along.
At one point when the band is ‘jamming’ with the keys roaring, the bass pounding and the guitar being strummed furiously, the crowd roared to life cheering the four-piece on stage wildly. As the one-hour show was winding down the opening chords for Riptide began immediately recognizable to anyone who has seen a commercial in the last six months would attest to. All the phones came out to take pictures and video evidence and high pitched female voices all sang along. During the bridge of the song the band faded out, and Keogh backed away from the microphone with only his ukulele making noise while everyone sang in unison “I swear she’s destined for the screen/Closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you’ve ever seen, oh” creating a goose bump inducing moment. The last song of the night was Mess Is Mine a current single from his debut full-length album Dream Your Life Away. The crowd filed out smiling and uplifted. There was already a large lineup of new audience members who were in line for a similarly soulful evening.