Tickets to a last minute intimate show from Julia Stone quietly crept on sale barely a week before the actual performance. Though it sold out, it was by no means a rush to get your hands on them. Here to polish her new solo set, Stone presents her songs of forlorn love and loss which have been played only a handful of times live before tonight, in preparation for a string of what will definitely be highly sought after dates in September.

Along for the ride tonight is local lad Albert Salt. Usually with a band behind him, instead it’s just him and a whole lot of pre-recorded material. He plays to a sparse crowd, who politely inch closer to the stage. Starting things off with a bang, literally, Salt startles the crowd with his thumping of the tom drum to his right before taking to the microphone and play a few keys.

However, his songs are largely all playing from the laptop behind him, including a female’s backing vocals. Yet he insists on performing random sections of songs for just a brief moment throughout his set, when he would be far better off simply singing the whole time. A bravado effort however, and perhaps a benefit of the doubt is needed here – perhaps another time, and with band in tow, would be more suited for Salt.

What is effectively their break from performing as the brother-sister duo we know her from, Julia Stone has recently released her second solo album, By The Horns. Her five-piece band takes their place on stage to begin a night of telling, mostly heartbreaking, tales from the older sibling.

Eerie lap steel is played to a barely illuminated stage before the petite songstress is suddenly spotlighted. The crowd release a breathy sigh, eyelids become heavy and a few quiet cheers are called as Julia gets right into “The Shit That They’re Feeding You”. That trumpet solo she breathes is simply beautiful; the tone for the evening ahead has been set.

“Bloodbuzz Ohio” is her cover of choice these days, a folky stripping back of the original and it goes down well. “I’ll have a chat soon, I’m just a bit nervous”, she apologetically smiles from beneath a blunt fringe, although she begs us not to film, “I don’t want this shit on the internet!”

We hear a truly heart wrenching story, told with great humour and sadness, about falling in love with a close friend. Stone wrote the song, “I Am a Liar” on a ukulele at LAX airport, ready to perform to said friend upon returning to Sydney. By awful chance, he’s at the airport… With a brand new girlfriend by his side. The crowd gasp and wince and let the painful song wash over them.

“Let’s Forget All the Things We Say”, another touching melody, creates a thoughtful climax before we’re treated to “This Love” from her first solo effort, The Memory Machine. The bass player picks up a fiddle for the scratchy string section as Stone sweetly says, “You probably don’t know any of these songs but it’s fun for me and I’m glad you’re here.”

“Here for the Night” is an imploring ballad steeped in blues as Stone’s wintry voice drips with sincerity and reaches an operatic peak of voice and drums before trailing quietly into the dark.

The title track of her latest, she tells us, is about dating a touring musician. “By the Horns” takes us abruptly from delicate love song to dirty, rocking blues and it’s the strongest we hear Stone’s voice tonight. She finishes, slightly out of breath, “Any questions? I’m just joking,” the crowd laugh, “but I’m serious. Sometimes I wish people would ask questions,” she quietly mentions.

Stone’s shy humour is wickedly funny and endearing. By engaging the audience in her storytelling, we see another side to her and her music and can laugh, tsk or dejectedly sigh in parts of songs; realising what’s really behind the sometimes cloudy lyrics.

The unifying feeling of ‘we’ve all been there before’ that Stone creates through her music is amplified by her rhetorical questions, sung with an upward inflection, as if asking us for an answer. The crowd often titters with knowing smiles and chuckles throughout. “Somehow” takes Julia’s voice to its height with the banjo and drums following swiftly behind, creating a huge crescendo. Then, as suddenly as her set started, it’s all over.

Not everybody is a fan of Angus and Julia Stone together (let’s face it, “Big Jet Plane” was 2010’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”), but it’s well worth seeing Julia Stone’s solo show. Her self-deprecating humour, enthralling storytelling and her bleak, yet relatable, new tunes make for a drowsy night of self-reflection. For the love of all that is good though, don’t film her talking and ask some god damn questions.

–          Anne-Louise Hill