Review: Ngaiire | Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Written By Caitlin Burns on 07/09/2016

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Papa New Guinean-born, Sydney-based vocal powerhouse, Ngaiire, played the penultimate show of her headlining tour in her hometown on Friday night. The crowd that packed out Oxford Art Factory was an mélange of ages, a reflection perhaps of Ngaiire’s genre-bending style that has wide appeal and can easily cross over from jazz to soul and commercial pop. Ngaiire has been drawn into the spotlight since the release of her second album, Blastoma. Lead singles OnceDiggin and House On a Rock have garnered a huge number of plays on triple j and are backed by more electronic, danceable beats than her earlier work.

The first thing I noticed when Ngaiire took to the stage was how tiny she was – I’m guessing around 5ft3. Yet she appeared to grow in size and stature with every bar of opening song, Novacaine, from her first album. She stood tall beneath an incredibly beautiful headdress made from fake flowers and tendrils of leaves that cascaded down the right side of her body. She was decked out in a green sequined Discount Universe two-piece with a large eye sitting atop an equally large mouth. The flamboyancy of her costume sat perfectly in front of the washed out, acid-like colours of the video projections that splashed on the screen behind (my favourite ever) drummer Christopher Port. Silver sequins stained a tear trail from the corner of her left eye.

Girls screamed out ‘yes, Queen!’ and, ‘take me to church’, from the crowd and, in a way, she did with, I Can’t Hear God Anymore. Her clear vocals sang out haunting lines of loneliness and abandonment, including the chorus, “I can’t hear God anymore ever since you left; he don’t come round here no more, he just went away.” Serious chills.

One of the real joys of Ngaiire’s performance was how generous she was with the other musicians on stage. She gave multiple shout outs to support act Jack Grace, who co-wrote the album and features on synth-heavy Cruel. Backing vocalists Christian Hemara and Billie McCarthy nearly stole the show with their jazz-style solos showcasing an unbelievable vocal range. Electronic music icon, and mentor to Ngaiire, Paul Mac was summoned from the crowd to share the stage for the final song, Diggin.

The entire show was a celebration of the album’s process, and evidence that Ngaiire is careful not to forget where she came from nor the people who helped her get there. Going forward, I hope that Ngaiire can find songs that bring out the intensity of her vocals, as I left with the impression that what I saw was only the tip of the iceberg.

?feeling things? while watching the incredible @ngaiire at her sold out show last night for @theinterns_net ???

A photo posted by Caitlin Burns (@caitlinburnz) on