7 October 2015
Reviewed by Samara Purnell
“Are you guys all here ‘coz of Ed Sheeran?” The long-haired, blonde boy from Brisbane asks. Much of the predominantly young, female crowd yells back “Yeeesss!!!”
I, on the other hand, wasn’t, having not caught him as the support act for Sheeran earlier this year.
“Man I should just thank that guy every night, hey?" Says Conrad Sewell.
But Sewell has been determinedly working at his music since a very young age, and with his debut album about to be released, the 27-year-old is finding success of his own volition.
Right before his Canberra gig, he was announced as a triple-ARIA nominee for Song of the Year, Best Pop Release and Breakthrough Artist.
Sewell kicked off the set with a pared-back, mellow version of “Firestone” - the hugely popular dance collaboration with Kygo. It became evident fairly quickly that Michael Jackson’s music has influenced Sewell, especially in tunes like “Who You Lovin’” which calls to mind Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”. There are similarities not only in Sewell’s arrangement and vocals, but the smattering of pops and vocal effects in his songs. The funk sound of the Jackson 5 era often came through on electric guitar.
Several of his songs are about his own break-ups, which he spoke about candidly, but not bitterly. There is still a lot of feeling in these songs about ex’s, cheaters and heartbreaks. Although “She” was inspired by the girlfriend of Sewell’s guitarist and best mate, Matt, as testament to the positive influence she’s had on him. It was refreshing to hear young males singing about how they want to clean their car because of a girl, as opposed to describing what they’d like to do to her in it.
These sweet sentiments gave way to a more blatant song “F*cking With You”, an expression Sewell says he picked up in America, used to cover a multitude of situations, but basically meaning “hanging out with”. Given that dropping an “f bomb” into the chorus of songs seems to immediately endear younger crowds to a performer, this song has the potential to become an instant hit at gigs for a singalong, as Sewell changes the location to suit: “Canberra…?” he offers,
“I’m still here f*ckin’ wit’ you”, the girls yell back enthusiastically. Well, it was a catchy tune…
“21 Questions” is a coming-of-age song. Emotional, and quite affecting, Sewell gave it the gravitas it needed then followed it up with “Neighbourhood”, a tune written with the idea of performing it at Glastonbury, "With everyone in the crowd just waving flags," explains Sewell. It’s not a stretch to believe that one day soon that will come to fruition, but for now, swaying lighters and flags were substituted with a few waving mobile phones and beer bottles.
A tribute song, to the significant women in his life – mum, his manager and his sister Grace (also nominated for an ARIA), had a melody reminiscent of Billy Joel’s “My Life” and is a really catchy tune with great keyboards from Francesco.
“Start Again” went to number one on the ARIA charts earlier this year and his live performance of the melodic, heart-felt plea didn’t disappoint.
It would have been good to see Sewell on keyboard for one of his slower songs, perhaps his cover of Jess Glynne’s “My Love” but that not being the case, he interacted physically with the audience, including during a short, bluesy version of “Gold Digger” where he spontaneously altered lyrics in response to comments from the audience, and they loved it.
Sewell regularly referenced Canberra and his surrounds throughout the performance, connecting with his audience. The set ended with the poppy “Hold Me Up” and with Sewell ruing his week off whiskey, so he could perform properly.
This intimate show, a change from the stadiums Sewell’s been playing to recently, allowed us to hear and connect with the lyrics of his songs, as well as with him physically and it put his impressive vocal range and professionalism starkly on display, in a really enjoyable and impressive gig.