Review + Photos: Angus & Julia Stone and Isaac Gracie @ The Ritz – Manchester

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Angus & Julia Stone

Seeing a band live often transcends the emotions which are triggered by their records. It becomes possible to discern the character of an outfit when they appear on the stage before us and this evening, in the company of Australian duo Angus & Julia Stone, their blissful musical concoctions are distilled through a seductively positive attitude that enhances the evening to transcendental levels, even though the tenebrous nature of their songs still remain at times.

Contributing to these positive vibes is Isaac Gracie. Hailing from London, the twenty-two year old has a huge future ahead of him if tonight’s performance in the support slot is anything to go by. Blessed with a bold voice positioned somewhere between the impassioned earnestness of Eddie Vedder and the gloriously rich tones of George Ezra, Gracie performs a collection of assured songs that draw from his openly impassioned admiration of Jeff Buckley, amongst others. In his youthful hands however he has the clear ability to prosper beyond such revered comparisons, and his final song morphs into a fearless and cacophonous jam that causes latecomers to regret not arriving sooner.

Angus and Julia Stone have arrived in Manchester for the UK leg of a world tour in support of their critically acclaimed new album Snow. The record possesses subtle differences to the sibling’s previous album, which generated a gloriously dark, portentous atmosphere at times and it is one that the siblings appear to be keen to withdraw from slightly on the new record. Having said that, opener Baudelaire is still a darkly ethereal march based around the forlorn harmonies that underpin much of the duo’s appeal and Julia’s elegiac trumpet solos enhance this impact. Make it Out Alive is a different kettle of fish though. Dreamy synths are embellished by Angus’ blissed-out intro and when he sings, I fell into the clouds, my feet weren’t touching the ground and we started to float around that’s what we’re all doing and Julia’s contributions lift us even further. The dark textures that emerged on the Rick Rubin produced previous album seem to have been smoothed over somewhat, without ever absconding too far from their unique selling point. The next track Cellar Door is a case in point, demonstrating that there is still a seductive melancholy in their shimmering harmonies.

Heart Beats Slow was a rousing highlight from their self-titled last album and the Tarantino inspired video helped to reinforce the brooding mournfulness that exists within the sombre cool that the pair share together. Tonight’s performance of this seminal track possesses a quite different vibe, in keeping with the more sanguine mood of the evening. Although the lugubrious lyrics can not change, the intricate manner of Angus and Julia’s deft contributions, combined with the more acoustic tone of the music appears to remove the dark edge of the track. It is still an absolute delight, but the more mellow sonic tones contribute to a much more chilled out song which suffuses the whole evening.

These warm tones are enhanced even further by the glorious Chateau, which the crowd instantly recongise the moment the first notes are heard. The second single from the album is an amorous adventure with killer guitar rhythms and romantic, breathy vocals that transport us all to a joyous summer plane. It’s the perfect pop song that possesses the innate ability to warm up even the chilliest Manchester crowd in November with ease! The more blissful approach the evening appears to be taking is again put on hold for a moment with Bloodhound. Angus takes the lead and his darkly ambiguous lyrics are enhanced by ominous red lighting which floods the Ritz like a tsunami of blood. The band’s previous show in Manchester placed Julia up front and centre with Angus appearing to be happy lurking ominously in the shadows. This evening, the setlist ensures that the pair’s integral contributions are much more even.

My House Your House is not the best track on the new record but it provides the partisan crowd an opportunity to participate in the communal spirit which the song evokes and the positivity transmutes to the encore with the effortlessly cool Grizzly Bear and Harvest Moon, which appears to be an incredibly popular cover at the moment. Finally bowing out with the dark march of A Heartbreak ensures that the band’s habit for nefarious tales is never that far away, but overall, the new record has provided a more blissful approach to the melancholy and the evening’s presentation of songs old and new is an absolute joy, enhanced by the the graceful and gracious demeanour and musicianship of Angus and Julia Stone.

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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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