Vance Joy excels as an artist. As a singer-songwriter, he brings a big heart and a love for the craft that’s easy to detect in the slow, smooth yearning of his music. His 2014 debut album, Dream Your Life Away, is the kind of music you listen to until you know every inflection in the singer’s voice, every chord progression, every moment of silence. And his music is the sort that fills the silence even more fully than the sound, giving every pause and break between songs a quiet melancholy. The album is beautiful and deep, and should be listened to on a cold fall or winter afternoon, alone, with candles and some sort of apple cider.
Naturally this low-key music would translate into a low-key performance. His singer-songwriter persona seems much more at home manifesting itself beautifully from within the confines of headphones, rather than on stage. The Fox Theater, while usually perfect for indie-rock groups, felt just big enough that the performer couldn’t quite fill out the space. The crowd turned up, with packed young professionals, moms drunk on wine, and fewer screaming teenagers than we might have thought swaying affectionately and listening attentively.
The night opened with “Mess Is Mine,” the woeful, yet upbeat, second track on his album. By the fourth song of the set, “All I Ever Wanted,” Vance Joy was looking much more comfortable on stage. He was smiling, happily and confidently looking out at the audience of young women that must have been giving him a boost of confidence. Moving into the more upbeat “Straight Into Your Arms,” he built off the energy of the growing “All I Ever Wanted,” before receding back into the quietness of “From Afar” and “Wasted Time.” By incorporating elements from his time performing as the opener for Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, the stage received a bolt of electricity. Powerful strobe lights added excitement and finality to the barely over one-hour performance.
Switching to the ukulele to play songs off of his EP, God Loves You When You’re Dancing, he appeared comfortable, playing the sweet “Emmylou” for the legions of adoring female fans. Almost all of his songs are about relationships — long distance, long-term, successful ones, failing ones, and everything in between. The songs give you a glimpse into this intimate world, making the theater feel a little smaller and the words a little more immediate. There’s a sense of urgency in singing about a love that’s far away, and Vance Joy conveyed that longing wholeheartedly.
By the time the set began to wrap up, it was obvious the audience was eager for the mega-hit, “Riptide.” Switching back to his ukulele, he began to strum the opening. The enthusiasm was palpable, and the performer definitely felt the energy. Everyone started signing, and he got a bounce in his step. Building off of that success, he moved into a mashup of “You Can Call Me Al” and “Cheerleader.” In a strange twist of fate, Vance Joy was his most enthusiastic self when performing someone else’s music. Perhaps because those songs naturally lent themselves to more excitement and an oversized personality, Vance Joy easily morphed into the performer it seemed he was trying to be throughout the show. It was as if the music was too personal for him to fully be himself onstage, and that by embodying someone else, he finally had the freedom to relax. The night ended with “Fire and the Flood,” one of his most upbeat, happy-go-lucky songs. As he walked off stage, it was clear the audience was elated and reflective — love was in the air.
Photos by Sam Engel // Senior Staff