Alex Lahey – 170 Russell
Alex Lahey – 170 Russell
Written by Sarah Rix
Photos by Rick Clifford
Alex Lahey writes a good song. The 25-year-old’s material is imbued with singalong choruses of woahs and oh-ohs; their narratives covering young, fleeting love and – broadly – the idea of desire and being wanted. She writes about what she knows and, unsurprisingly, these tend to be relatable topics for her crowd of 20-somethings, quick to eat it all up with their (undoubtedly op-shopped sterling silver) spoons.
It helps to explain why the feelings in her hometown room on a Wednesday night were so celebratory. It was an audience there to cheer on one of their own – she’s an artist that would be so easy to call a friend, and she’s doing well for herself both at home and abroad. Nearing capacity at the first of two shows at 170 Russell (Lahey will again play on Friday night, this time to a sold out crowd,) she reciprocated with her own appreciation for the city’s support.
Opener Eilish Gilligan started the night with an offering of her fully-formed pop. Providing clean, crisp vocals, the stage setup was minimal – just her and one other musician on backing electronics. It gave the performance a bedroom-like quality as it’s easy to imagine her creating and testing these songs on her housemates, surrounded by an impressive collection of potted plants and succulents. And, while Gilligan may not be reinventing the wheel anytime soon, it’s definitely one that rolls. The building verses and big beat choruses would find their happy home at the intersection of Sylvan Esso and Lorde.
Bridging the gap between Gilligan’s electronic pop offerings and Lahey’s singalong guitar tunes was garage rock four-piece Bloods. The Sydney-based group came out of the gate all up-tempo power chords and 60s-styled harmonies. While likely a first meeting between them and the crowd, songs like “Feelings” (the titular track from their record due out later this year) were easy to get behind. Bloods’ standout number, though, was a song nearing the end of their set, with lyrics regarding “I got time.” It was straight out of the 90s with its Breeders-esque vocal delivery – the band pulling it off very well.
During the set changeover, Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” and Michelle Branch’s “Everywhere” served as background music – though it was Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” that drew the night’s first big crowd singalong.
“Nothing says welcome home like a communal singing of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’, am I right?” Lahey would later ask her receptive audience. “It’s like Beyoncé at Coachella, but not as good.”
It was a rush of vocals and a big start to the set with “I Love You Like A Brother”, the title track from her 2017 debut – Lahey evidently keen to get right into her first hometown show in about six months. “This is the greatest place in the world and it’s so good to be home,” she told us ahead of “Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Arguably Lahey’s greatest strength is her ability to draw listeners in through her lyrics. Narrative-driven songs give you something to follow and connect to, while one-liners (like on the aforementioned “Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder” and topical “Wes Anderson”) are easily digestible. In some ways, her storytelling is comparable to that of fellow Australian artist Courtney Barnett – but there’s a younger tilt to it, finding a reference point to Paramore, too.
There’s also commendable contributions from Lahey’s three-piece backing band, including enviable drumming on “Backpack” and the bass-driven anchoring of the angst-y “Lotto in Reverse”. A cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” was a good fit for her as well, then leading into the anthemic, bouncy “Every Day’s the Weekend” which saw the crowd raising their hands into the air in jubilation as they shouted back the chorus.
Lahey’s two-song encore would prove a welcome finish to a warm homecoming. Despite the overtly self-aware lyrics on “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me” and “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself”, they would both prove to be a triumphant send off – a final guitar rip and a bow from Lahey giving closure to a night of Australia’s emerging talent.