Tinpan Orange @ The Vanguard 20.5.16

Tinpan Orange on stage at The Vanguard last Friday


4.5/5

The red wine flowed generously among the diners of The Vanguard last Friday, as they held hands in the candlelight or chatted animatedly to friends over multiple courses of dinner. With the median age hovering closer to 50 than 25, this was a crowd who likes to gig in comfort – and with such mesmerising performers as Tinpan Orange on the bill, why not?

The mood was unsurprisingly mellow before support act Jim Lawrie took the stage to serenade us. His lilac-hued tales of heartbreak, featuring resolute circles of emotional self-destruction, added an extra layer to the room’s comfortable stupor. It seemed we might never emerge from these fuzzy depths of melancholy, but they vanished the instant Emily Lubitz stepped on stage.

Blessed though she is with a magnetic stage presence and bewitching voice, Tinpan Orange’s front woman is also about as unaffected as they come. Chatting candidly about her inspirations, Emily readily admitted to borderline plagiarism and seeking songwriting assistance from Facebook, causing giggles and guffaws from every seat.

Beginning with the title track off new release Love Is A Dog, Tinpan powered through a crowd-pleasing set list that was equal parts nostalgia, and a persuasive argument for the purchase of their new material. Over The Sun favourites Birdy and Barcelona made a well-received appearance, while Song For Frida Kahlo satisfied the more loyal fans in the audience. But it was the band’s new songs that sounded freshest and most assured.

It is likely some of that assurance comes from Tinpan Orange’s newly refined musical identity. There is a cohesiveness to their latest album borne of artistic confidence, and it manifested in the quiet conviction that underpinned all their deliveries. Guitarist Jesse Lubitz provided solid rhythmic support not just in his playing, but in guiding the set list seamlessly through its paces, while Emily left us breathless in the wake of her candid vocal explorations.

The addition of violin virtuoso Alex Burkoy brought yet another dimension to the Tinpan sound – and it damn near made the show. At first it seemed Burkoy was only there to provide the melodic bass lines we were all familiar with, but suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a blistering violin solo that garnered a roar from the audience when it finally ended.

The fireworks were kept to a tasteful minimum however. Cities of Gold soared tenderly above the hushed crowd, Fools and Cowboys charmed and amused with its cautionary advice, and Rich Man was every bit as captivating as it sounds on the record. But it was unassuming album-closer Leopard that delivered that moment of pure,  spine-tingling intimacy that us gig-goers secretly hope every live encounter will offer up. Walking casually among the tables, the band clambered up on chairs and issued forth with disarming candour, stunning musicianship and a very real awareness of who they were sharing the room with.

An encore was non-negotiable and it came, in the form of a Lubitz-ised cover of Hank Williams’ Jambalaya. An odd choice perhaps, from a band whose audience had consistently begged for their originals, but it was further proof that these musicians’ confident brushstrokes can be applied to other canvases with stunning effect.

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