Jen Cloher – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
The first time I saw Jen Cloher live, I was at OAF, awash on a sea of sobriety. To paraphrase Lloyd Bridges, I picked a great month to go Dry July. This is rock and roll that needs and expects a certain amount of lubrication to fully dig its loose-limbed swagger, and here I was – sober as George goddamn Pell.
I was at the Oxford Art Factory for last night’s Sydney launch of Cloher’s new record, In Blood Memory. After a sparkling guitar-heavy (of course) set from Cloher’s lead/slide guitarist Courtney Barnett and a sweet set of 60s flavoured dream pop from Melodie Nelson, Cloher and her band were on and I was cursing sobriety, temperance and all the wowsers of the world.
But I needn’t have worried. Just as In Blood Memory had seduced me from the first listen (my review for TOP is here), Cloher, all black jeans and Jeff Beck hair, and her band put me in the right place from the first note of opener ‘Kamikaze Origami’.
The band – Barnett on lead/slide, bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Jen Sholakis – are a true band, a breathing entity that propels these fantastic songs like dancing with a lover, hot but held tender. The vibe on the album is full-blooded and ‘live’ so I was keen to hear how the songs came across with the added immediacy of here-and-now.
I was not disappointed – the band, Cloher and the songs positively glowed from the stage, reminding me of everything that is good and bighearted about rock and roll. It was as tight as it needed to be and as loose as it had to be – with just enough tattooed garage grease to make it live in the Now. Cloher switched between her Jim Dyson Tele and Strat and drove the band with some tough rhythm – after ‘Toothless Tiger’ the guy next to me said ‘That’s the best Stones song they never wrote’. I had to agree.
The band worked through the songs from In Blood Memory and even played a couple that didn’t make the album – one was the wonderfully named ‘Stone Age Brain’, which had Barnett coaxing some hair-raising noise out of her beautiful thrift-shop (a compliment where I come from) hollow-body, displaying what an inventive and lateral-thinking guitarist she is.
Another discard from the album was a lovely country harmony piece that Cloher introduced with the tantalising news of an upcoming tour with Mia Dyson and Liz Stringer (quipping ‘Our Crosby, Stills & Nash tour…’).
Cloher seemed genuinely pleased at the packed Sydney room and reacted to individual shouts from the audience with good humour. After a few older acoustic songs the band drove into perhaps the most remarkable piece on the album, ‘Name in Lights’ and finished with a howling maelstrom of garage noise.
Encore, ‘Hold My Hand’, left us all breathless, and me high as a motherlovin’ kite. This is why I do stupid Dry July – to see if I love what I love for what it is, and not for the party swirl that I worry I need for me to love it.
And I love In Blood Memory and Jen Cloher’s rockin’ band. This album positions her as one of Australia’s premier songwriters – one with an entirely original voice and vision. And that originality of vision is more important now that it has ever been, as rock and roll incrementally solidifies into a digital cartoon. Thankfully Jen Cloher is writing better than she ever has, and I hope she never stops.