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REVIEW: Wil Wagner at the Small Ballroom

Iona Cairns is first on stage as the crowd shuffles in. It’s not Cairns’ first time in Australia – or Newcastle for that matter; having played a show with Wil Wagner here previously in 2014. Since then she has gone on to form the band Shit Present, where most of her songs came from tonight. Her songs have a great pop sensibility, making them very easy to listen to, and the audience warms to her quickly.

Lucy Wilson had the crowd charmed from her opening song. ‘Tall Man With A Tan’ is a song that shows off all the best qualities of The Sugarcanes frontwoman; a natural and personable songwriting style, matched with one of the most impressive voices in Australian music. Wilson performed all of the songs from an EP of the same name, as well as a few unreleased tracks from an upcoming release. Local singer/songwriter Jen Buxton was brought up on stage for the last song, which was a duet of the classic Zutons ‘Valorie’.

It’s Laura Stevenson’s first time in Australia, and for a select few in the audience, she was the star of the show. Opening with her track ‘The Wheel’, it’s clear to see that she is a charismatic performer. Unfortunately, the set was brought down by sound issues.

Her mix was already low, but paired with a crowd that would rather chat than listen, it left engaged audience members straining to hear her performance. Talking loudly in the middle of any set is a faux pas, but at an acoustic show it’s just not on. Stevenson’s ability as a songwriter deserved more respect than it was given.

From the opening lines of ‘Death To The Lads’, it felt like the roof could have come of The Small Ballroom at any moment. The Smith Street Band’s music has always allowed for massive sing-a-longs at their gigs, but tonight might have been the strongest example of that to date. During songs such as ‘Ducks Fly Together’ and ‘Belly Of Your Bedroom’, the crowd were in danger of being louder than Wil Wagner himself.

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Wagner played electric guitar for the whole night, with a set that plucked songs from over a decade, and catered to every fan. He spoke about his first trip to Newcastle, hooking up with Like…Alaska for a show at The Hamilton Station Hotel. Ten years later, The Small Ballroom was near sold out, with a throng of adoring fans; Wagner was even gifted a bouquet of flowers in between songs.

Wagner skips the performative encore, instead notifying to the crowd the point in the set when he would have walked off stage. After a few more songs, Wagner played the opening notes of ‘Young Drunk’ – and all hell broke loose. One punter made his way on stage to sing with Wil, and in a blink of an eye, half the crowd joined him on stage – engulfing Wagner in a sea of fans. He took it all in stride, still playing the song despite being mobbed. Finishing the night off singing the final notes a capella , ears ringing from the pure volume of fans singing back. It was a weird yet wonderful way to close out the show.

Written by Spencer Scott

Spencer is a singer/songwriter from Newcastle. He's also a Triple J Unearthed Super User and writes for many national publications.

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