As the projector screen rose and the house lights dimmed at 10 p.m. on Saturday, three band members walked onto the stage. James Keogh’s tall figure appeared amidst the darkness, and the crowd erupted. (Keogh took his stage name, Vance Joy, from the 1981 Peter Carey novel, Bliss.) Vance Joy was finally here. Though the band was in the Bay Area last February supporting Young the Giant at the Fox, it wasn’t until this summer’s single, “Riptide,” that they began to strike a chord with American audiences. The song blew up on the radio and has since gained them a huge following, one that was quick to sell out Slim’s.
Vance Joy opened with “Emmylou,” the first track off the 2013 EP, God Loves You When You’re Dancing. After offering a brief “thank you” to the crowd, the band proceeded into “Red Eye.” Two songs in, Keogh switched to his ukulele, which looked even tinier against his 6’4” frame. After playing “Winds of Change,” he remarked that he was excited to be finishing the tour in San Francisco. He didn’t speak much to the crowd during the night, but frequently appeared to be staring at a spot on the back wall, a sign of his nervousness, despite having been on the road for most of 2014. When I met him last Tuesday in San Diego, he was shy, not yet used to the nearly overnight fame he achieved this summer. He exhibited more stage presence at Slim's than expected based on our meeting, though it will be interesting to see how his nerves hold up during his first few shows opening for Taylor Swift’s latest North American tour next May. Saturday’s sold out show at Slim’s was barely a fraction of the size of the venues where the 1989 World Tour will be playing — the August show at Levi’s Stadium can seat up to 75,000.
After a fantastic opening set by Jaymes Young, I was a bit surprised he never came out again. I was hoping for some last-night-of-tour antics, but all we got was a shoutout from Vance Joy. Shortly after the show, Young reappeared, eager to talk to fans and sign CDs.
During the 12-song set, Keogh had three guitars and a ukulele in rotation. It was during “Snaggletooth,” the sixth song of the night, that his passion was most evident in his vocals. Many of his songs seem to be about lost love, especially “From Afar,” described by him as a “sad, love song.” Despite this, there were no frowns in the venue, though there may have been a few tears of joy.
Keogh ended abruptly, though, after performing for less than an hour. He ended with “Riptide,” followed by “Mess is Mine.” There was no encore, though the crowd would have welcomed another three songs in the same manner they would welcome the cashier at Humphry Slocombe announcing that their ice cream scoop was free. Vance Joy’s promoter made a judgment call by picking Slim’s for the Dream Your Life Away tour; I have no doubt he could have sold out The Independent just as easily. Hopefully Keogh will get another North American headline tour in before hitting the road with Taylor Swift in May. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him landing a Sunday afternoon Coachella set, either. For now, we’ll just be hopeful that he comes back soon.
Photos by Sam Engel / Senior Staff