On Wednesday night, I returned to one of my favorite San Francisco venues, The Independent, to see Angus & Julia Stone perform. Although the Australian brother and sister folk-duo began performing at an early age, with Julia on trumpet and Angus on trombone, the two truly began their musical collaboration in the jungles of Bolivia as Angus taught his older sister how to play the guitar during her gap year. Upon returning to Australia, they played split sets, each singing backing vocals for the other, but soon furthered their collaborative efforts and began working together to craft the harmonies that have since made them famous.
While chatting with some über fans at the front of the stage, waiting for the show to begin, I noticed the variety of instruments positioned around the stage and was curious how the opener would incorporate the vast quantity into his or her set. Inconspicuously, the opener shortly emerged from backstage, and a young man with short dreadlocks and a backwards cap picked up a duct-taped guitar. Connor Youngblood caught the audience’s attention with a juxtaposition of sound: he was loud with funky loop-pedal work that mixed static white noise with the familiar twang of electric guitar, but tender piano keys and a soft, wispy voice were soothing and light. He may be young, but Youngblood has talent and he won’t be unsigned for long.
Not wasting any time, the Angus and Julia quickly took to the stage and launched right into “A Heartbreak,” with a sturdy bassline and the recognizable harmonization of her fractured-theatrical trill and his smoky, Paul Simon drawl. The duo moved promptly from one song to the next, pausing only briefly to insert a comment about San Francisco before pulling the first chord from the strings and starting to sing once more. Or in the case of “Private Lawns,” a little taste of trumpet from Julia. Without taking off her guitar, she picked up her trumpet and indulged in a spunky jazz solo with an intoxicating burlesque attitude, and it was instantly clear that, with a trumpet, she was in her element.
Then, Julia wow’ed with a cover of “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease, slowing it down and highlighting the fragility of her voice in a way that can only be described as sexy – it added another dimension to the classic song we all know and love. Immediately following her cover was their hit single, “Big Jet Plane,” and then, Angus left the stage while Julia sang “Wedding Song,” a song they wrote “for a couple of mates that got a married a few years back… they have two little kids now. This is for them. And for anyone that has found someone to make babies with.” With breathy, heartfelt lyrics, the song was a lovely reprieve from the melancholy undertones of their other tracks. Angus and the band returned, Heinekens and cups of wine in tow, to shift the tone with the groovy “Grizzly Bear.” In seconds, everyone was dancing to the funky beat.
After a few more songs, the duo closed out the show with a brief encore of the lively anthem, “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and the slow, wistful “Santa Monica Dream.” The two songs perfectly wrapped up the evening – exhibiting the authentic sound that makes these two musicians so unique.
They sing from the heart, Angus and Julia, and even after the show’s conclusion, their heartfelt harmonies echoed long into the night.
Photos by Jen Horton / Staff