Every time people ask me what moddi sounds like, I always answer, “scandinavian”. It might sound silly or ‘obvious’, but he sounds nordic, his music exhales ice cold vapor and, in the best of cases, a slightly denuded landscape, with a small hint of Garneau-like vocals and classical orchestral arrangements. In recordings, it’s intense and a bit gloomy but live, it’s like fireworks, with energy spilling out and about. I’m sad we missed half of his set due to our obstinacy to wanting to walk everywhere (as opposed to taking public transport) in Munich – even though the venue, Backstage, is somewhat lost, smack in the middle of construction sites and grand hotels and highway exits.
After moddi‘s set and some making-our-way-to-the-front-through-a-completely-packed-pit later, with me incredibly restless and trying to take in all the details of the set spreading itself before me – or, anyway, what I could see in-between heads of people who were joyfully taller than me – the stage technician did one last round to make sure all was okay, turning on all of the lampshades as he did so, the rest of the lights in the hall progressively fading until we stood in the dark, holding our breaths, with fairy lights and faint bulbs illuminating the slowly advancing, quirky Julia. Her brother Angus, looking like quite the hippie, followed. Here they are: Angus and Julia Stone. She was wearing a light, flow-ey kind of dress (the kind you’d wear at the beach, in Summer or, well, in Australia), her hair parted and her mouth cherry red, her cheeks full; spoke little, grabbed a microphone, and started playing right on. For the first couple of songs, I thought it was going to be one of those concerts, with an adoring audience and an exasperated and ignoring couple of musicians. But progressively, though I had high expectations of this concert, I fell a little bit in love. Julia’s Björk-like hand movements softened, and I fell in love a little more. As the first notes of Bella were played, I had to secretly smile: one of the songs from my wishlist! And my smile widened as the next song was introduced: For You. With a dash of self-irony, Julia explained the background story of the song, how it was sent via the internet to a boy she loved as a veiled love letter; and the disappointment when his answer (“hip-hop beats he was working on”, which got the crowd laughing) arrived. Her brother, on the other hand, appeared shy like a schoolkid and spoke little, always relying on her to do the talking and switch from very melancholy and (often a little too) sweet songs to a bird-like tweeting and chattering away with anecdotes. Angus’ goofiness was greeted with enthusiasm by the audience as he picked up the trumpet (he doesn’t actually play the trumpet) to accompany his sister on the only new song they played that evening, Where does the love go (“love comes and goes like he’s got somewhere else he needs to be / and he rushes out the door before I get a chance to ask love why he wants to leave”), a very adorable and bittersweet song about the moment that passional love turns into something milder, quieter, less exciting and maybe slightly worrying. Just A Boy and Big Jet Plane were two of the biggest hits among the crowd, who enthusiastically sang along, and were a nice ‘break’ from Julia’s omnipresent voice.
Angus looked his timidity in the face as he introduced the band; some guy whose name I didn’t understand on the, um, bass, the violinist who cutely and sheepishly sang quietly to herself during the choruses and, to my absolute joy, the man who I’d recognised the moment he’d gotten on stage and behind the drums: Matt Johnson, also known as THE Matt Johnson. If you have no idea who I am talking about, pick up your copy of Grace (I sure hope you own at least one copy of this masterpiece) and there he is, in the sleeve, in the credits, on the photo, his arm around Jeff Buckley. This was a nice bonus, to see on stage a man I looked up to as, fifteen-years-old and not quite cut for the drums but still trying, I sat in front of a drumset looking quizzically at the notes of Eternal Life that my teacher had just brought in that morning – knowing I was a Buckley fan. But I’m straying from the subject.
Two covers were also on that night’s programme: a very very slow version of You’re the One That I Want (from Grease) which, had I not known that they’d already done it live a couple of times, it would have taken me more than 3 seconds to recognise; and Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which would have been fitting as an introduction for Yellow Brick Road but, alas, it was a medley with Hold On instead). In both cases, Julia’s very particular way of singing really managed to give another depth to the songs chosen, resulting in something that the two siblings truly made their own. To top it up, Julia’s incredible dexterity switching from one instrument to the next – keeping the guitar on her lap while she was on the keys, playing the trumpet during singing breaks, and the incredible e-guitar solo in Yellow Brick Road – made me reconsider my sympathy towards her. After roaring and clapping at the end of the first encore, they came back out for a last song, before disappearing backstage smiling wonderfully. Lights on. I blinked, and some of the magic was gone.
All in all, the concert met my expectations (surprisingly, considering I’d been anticipating this show for at least three months) and, though I found Angus’ role on stage a bit deceiving, maybe too secondary, there was great energy flowing and a feeling of complicity both between the siblings themselves and between them and the audience. I was only a bit disappointed at the lack of some of my favorite songs and surprised that, with such a big back catalogue to choose from – masses of EPs and the gorgeous A Book Like This – they decided to concentrate instead almost exclusively on the new record Down the Way.
Here’s a setlist, compiled by yours truly:
All Of Me
You’re the One that I Want (cover from the “Grease” musical)
Just A Boy
And The Boys
Big Jet Plane
Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Judy Garland cover) / Hold On (Medley)
The Wedding Song Play Video
Yellow Brick Road Play Video
Where Does The Love Go
Santa Monica Dream