Tonight, The Toff in Town could be mistaken for a hay barn in the middle of the country with the line-up of acts and general attire of the milling crowd; tonnes of flanno, scrubby beards aplenty and girls with copious bunches of flowers in their hair.
Local 5-piece Dirt Farmer opened the evening, playing to an almost-full room, and they warm up the already sweltering venue. The band don’t let the growing heat affect their performance though; if anything, they spur on through the sweat with their 60s-inspired rock’n’roll and they clearly have an effect on the wilting audience.
“Kick It” proves inspiring as the perfect winter blues killer and will fast become a staple on everybody’s version of ‘when the grey and cold becomes too much’ playlist.
Their harmonies are beautiful, with the gravelly backing vocalist adding some maturity to the more youthful pipes of lead singer Stu Barlow, the perfectly-placed harmonica solos an absolute dream and the mix is spot on.
It’s hard not to imagine a different time; 50 years in the past, playing in a sunny field, chewing on straw and participating in the occasional hoedown seems more of an appropriate setting than a drizzly night in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.
Georgia Fair slips wordlessly on stage shortly after, jumping right into “Times Fly” from debut LP All Through Winter and an EP by the same name. Tonight’s show is to promote new single “Blind” and it’s played early in the set. The audience is warned by lead singer Jordan Wilson that he and other half of the Sydney duo, Ben Riley, “tend to get lost” in this song, and rightly so.
The blend of electric and acoustic guitar is stirring and translates as a slower, more emphatic version live. The twang of Wilson’s voice fluctuates interestingly between country American (when he sings the word “can’t”) and beachy Australian (when “don’t” is sung). Riley, on the other hand, has started the set with a flat, unanimated voice – both in song and banter – leaning dangerously towards being the guy who lets the team down.
Thankfully, by the time we’re treated to a new song (“it’ll be out…sometime,” Riley drawls), he seems to have warmed up – though it’s impossible not to inside of the Toff’s dense heat. The fresh track holds heart wrenching lyrics of love and loss, gently building climaxes and Georgia Fair’s signature boy-boy harmonies cracking under heavy emotion.
The familiar, dreamy guitar riffs of “Where You Been” are welcomed by the boisterous crowd. Indeed, Wilson introduces another song with a hint of good-natured annoyance at the chatty punters, “this next one’s a bit of a story, if you dare to hear it.”
Wilson incorporates some impromptu dancing to accompany “Float Away”, weakly swaying across the tightly-packed stage with limp arms, perhaps to signify, well… floating away. At least he has a good laugh at himself at the end, stressing to us, “you’ve gotta imagine it!”
The lads enter some sly blues territory with great finesse and invite their mates, Dirt Farmer, back to the stage for an impressive cover of The Velvet Underground. It’s almost a surprise to not see them topple off onto the audience, but the nine bopping musicians share the stage with incredible, affable energy; cutely leaning in to share microphones, they’re having so much fun – you wish you were up there as well.
Despite the hit and miss of Riley’s vocals and some seriously weird dancing from Wilson, Georgia Fair are continuing to perform sincere and often moving folk tales while still being able to have a laugh along the way.
– Anne-Louise Hill