Review: SAFIA | Paddington Town Hall, Sydney

Written By Zanda Wilson on 05/28/2016


When SAFIA announced that they’d be doing a run of national shows this May and June, tickets were snapped up quicker than a toupee in a hurricane. The boys had just come off some of their best shows to date at Groovin The Moo festival – and have written a bunch of new songs over the last year or so this was possibly going to be the last chance for many to see them road-test new material before their impending debut album is released.

It was announced at the same time that SAFIA would be playing ‘secret shows’ at ‘unconventional venues’ – which had punters at peak excitement. But it was quickly apparent when the Canberra trio took to the stage at Paddington Town Hall why although it’s a cool idea in theory to play in strange and weird venues – there’s a good reason why not all that many bands brave the challenge. Full credit to SAFIA for trying something outside the box, but their set and their sound suffered as a result which was unfortunately something that was out of their control, and wasn’t for lack of trying or passion during the performance.

The set started well enough; an extended instrumental jam opened into Paranoia, Ghosts and Other Sounds which had the crowd seriously getting into it. The set followed a similar trajectory to their Groovin The Moo set; with the tried and tested formula of playing big hits between each unheard new track. But unlike at Groovin the new material simply didn’t resonate as well – again perhaps a symptom of playing little-road-tested material in a sound-space that wasn’t designed for a synth and effect heavy set.

It almost seemed like SAFIA were trying to reward their small audience (despite the show being sold out) with more new tracks than they’ve played live in some time – but it was clear that most were expecting more of what they loved and knew. It didn’t help either that their support act – Lower Spectrum, would have been better suited to a set at Chinese Laundry or some other club. His bass-heavy set just echoed around the hall and reverbed the shit out of everyone’s ears.

In saying all of that – none of this criticism is levelled at SAFIA’s members themselves. It was obvious that they’re becoming seasoned performers, and no one would doubt that they’ve developed into consummate professionals over their few years on the scene. The set had dizzying highs; including You Are The One and Make Them Wheels Roll – but between the few highlights the crowd was not particularly well-engaged with the set.

Ben’s vocals – as always – were another highpoint of the performance, but either the acoustics weren’t conducive to his tone or the sound technicians had him pitched too softly for most of the set, which didn’t allow him to show off his masterful use of falsetto (so good that it doesn’t sound like falsetto at all) to his full ability. Suddenly, towards the back end of the set; something clicked. The boys play a soft instrumental jam that builds into Take Me Over, creating an energy in Paddington Town Hall that has been sorely missing for the past 40 minutes. Finally, it feels like a SAFIA show.

The boys go off stage for a minute, before the chant of encore brings them back. We want more of what we’ve just seen – the show has been saved by one song. The encore is comprised of an amazing extended version of Counting Sheep and SAFIA finish the show with their biggest hit to date Embracing Me - which is the singalong of the night. “Where was this sound, this energy, this vibe all night?” punters were left wondering. Surely though, this is an experience that SAFIA will learn from. It’s perhaps the first time we’ve seen them ever so much as stumble, but proof of their professionalism and skill was shown in their ability to save a gig from the grasps of averageness and morph it into one of the best conclusions to a show from any act in 2016.