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Live Review: Sally Seltmann, April 4 @ The Vanguard

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on April 8, 2014

Sydney-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Sally Seltmann arrived back in Aus for an east coast tour of her latest offering Hey Daydreamer, and I caught her show at Sydney’s wonderful theatre The Vanguard last weekend.

If you haven’t been there, it’s this narrow little vaudevillian theatre, with tables up front, a mezzanine up top, huge red velvet curtains and red-painted walls. Top it off with a delectable cocktail menu and you’ve got all the ingredients for an excellent concert. Indeed, I’ve never walked out of that theatre unsatisfied with the event.

Sally came on stage around 10 pm with a more-than-stripped-back accompaniment consisting of a keyboard, and drummer-multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Bree van Reyk.

The first thing that struck me was how pure, how crystal clear Seltmann’s voice was. As much as I adore The Vanguard, the tiny venue and sweeping velvet drapes has been known to suck in sound, and depending on the music, can either stifle or over-expose. But this was not so. (For some reason the description which stuck in my head was somewhere between Sufjan Stevens, and a less-annoying Joanna Newsom.)

Her angelic voice carried clearly through the venue, as we were taken on a journey spanning her whole career – both her solo albums as Sally Seltmann, and even a couple of older New Buffalo tracks. Seltmann creates wonderful worlds and stories within her songs, and the clarity in her vocal stylings allow you to hang onto each phrase. Songs like Billy and Holly Drive have these beautiful musical phrases with somewhat darker lyrics. “There’s a sunny disposition on the outside, but it’s a shady place I live in on the inside,” she laments.

Her latest album Hey Daydreamer is an absolute masterpiece, and the new tracks really shone through on Friday night. However, I found that the weakest points of the set were these same tracks, as weird as that may sound. What I adore about Hey Daydreamer is the massive amount of stuff going on. The glorious orchestral arrangements, the layers, of which I enthrallingly discover something previously unheard each time I listen. And no matter how brilliant van Reyk was as accompanist (and let me tell you, I was in awe of this incredibly talented, perfectly precise, emotive percussion-wizard from start to end), and no matter how many sounds were programmed into her keyboard, (and admittedly, a sax player joined her toward the end of the set) it just didn’t quite do what I’d wanted it to do.

But, overall, there are advantages to minimal live arrangements. Like I said, Seltmann’s voice is so damn lovely and amazing that I found myself hanging onto her tone more than anything, which I couldn’t have done if she wsa backed by a full group. For the most part, it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t being swept off my feet by horns, woodwinds, harps and more. It wasn’t necessarily better or worse, just a very different experience to the album.

Seltmann is a fairly meek woman, more than I’d expected actually, and there was minimal audience interaction. But the loyal crowd was warm and welcoming, and the audience response changed what could have been awkward banter into some light humour.

Played right near the end, my favourite song of the night was title track, Hey Daydreamer. The mesmerising melody in front of that deep red backdrop of my favourite Newtown haunt, it was beautiful. A wonderful performance, which the audience absolutely loved.

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