Sydney’s Tin Sparrow looks like they’ve rolled straight onto stage from the beach and make you wish that you did too. With everyone’s hair length below the ears, the 5-piece play a string of pop tunes, with an occasional nod to country and blues, any one of which could be plucked off stage and be heard in the background of a heart-warming scene in Packed to the Rafters.

They seamlessly slip from one song to the next, with classic storytelling lyrics, a confident guitarist leading solo after solo, and your mind’s eye slips down a dusty road in the outback as you drive away from mundane life. The harmonies Tin Sparrow create surprise you with goose bumps (rivalling fellow Macquarie uni-studiers Boy & Bear) as all members flex their vocal chords in every song. Occasionally, the only female singer (Sonja van Hummel, also on percussion and keys) sounds nasal and somewhat flat and the bassist is a completely unnecessary presence onstage. Later reading up on this band, they appear to actually be a 4-piece – no bassist in sight. It’s a shame; some grooving bass lines could really add to Tin Sparrow’s sound but at the moment, they’re better off without the awkward guy to the left…

By now, The Corner Hotel has reached its sold out capacity. The red curtain opens to a smoky stage and eerie lighting. A few long minutes pass before Matt Corby slowly steps on stage to a tumultuous greeting by the crowd. Without any acknowledgement of our being there, he sighs into the opening notes of a lyric-less tune, instead looping his voice multiple times over acoustic guitar.

Right off the bat, it’s the kind of gig where, if you breathe too loudly, you get shushed from the people surrounding you. The band silently joins Corby on stage for ‘Coloured Stones and Walls’ and it feels as though it’s going to be a melancholy way to start the week. You can barely understand Corby’s coarse voice and he well and truly slips into his own world during the opening of the gig; his eyes barely open once, otherwise never lifting far from the spot in front of the microphone stand.

Finally he raises his gaze to the crowd, as if just realising we’re there. He blinks away the haze, “Good evening,” he mutters. “How is everyone?” Thankfully, he intersperses the heavy blocks of blues with his more fast-paced folk tunes like ‘My False’ and the immense roots ballad ‘Souls A’fire’ – a definite highlight of the evening, injecting some much needed energy through the spines of the stooping crowd. Corby favours the looping station for both voice and guitar throughout the night, reminiscent of fellow Australian folkstars Josh Pyke and Mat McHugh’s live performances. He continues to show the crowd exactly how he layers his addictive and lacerating melodies, each piece feeling as if it lasted ten minutes.

T-Bone on bass, Nat on keys and Tim on drums provide Corby with strong support – particularly the theatrics Tim displays, even standing to smash the kit with as much power as Corby’s remarkable singing range. The focus is clearly always on Corby, though. Even performing right of centre, it’s hard to take your eyes off his often contorted face when voice just isn’t enough to convey emotion (though the mostly female-dominated crowd would of course attest this as yet another attractive trait of his).

With a busy and mostly sold out tour schedule ahead, the barely noticeable bumps and snags along the way will iron themselves out purely from practice and performing. At only 21, he’s come a long way from his infamous beginnings on a television talent show five years ago and from here on in, the future is blind full of promise and love for his earthy, soulful tones. Closing with the very smart cover of The Black Keys’ hit ‘Lonely Boy’ and the single which followed at number three on Triple J’s Hottest 100, ‘Brother’, a performance from Matt Corby is not for the faint-hearted; by the end it pulls you harshly back to reality and leaves you with a heavy head on your shoulders.

– Louie Hill