The Lexington – 25th September
The adage goes that it’s not adversities that define a person, but their response to them. For Jen Cloher, the attention and praise heaped upon her fourth, self-titled, album and the overseas opportunities it’s brung offers a certain validation for the dogged determination with which she’s stuck at her art despite a series of setbacks, a fact only reinforced by the buzz and hum of a sold out Lexington.
As a longtime champion of the Australian DIY scene it’s no surprise that Cloher’s brought some of her contemporaries along for the ride. Cable Ties own the room with their own brand of taut, breathless post-punk that offers musical nods to both Life Without Buildings and Le Tigre and commands attention through their freneticism and energy in a manner that belies the fact that it’s their own debut UK show – and as latecomers to the tour only their third overseas show full stop. By set’s end Jenny McKechnie delivers a monologue of fiery intensity that ends with her screaming “I’M A HUMAN BEING NOT A PRODUCTION UNIT”. Whatever their standing before their set, the number of people carrying copies of their album by night’s end (not to mention the number almost certainly waking up with partial deafness come the morning) suggests their performance left an indelible impression.
With her status and overdue international acclaim having been firmly cemented through her recent self-titled breakthrough record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s where Cloher would start. Ever keen to throw a curveball, she instead starts with the closing track of her 2013 record In Blood Memory, ‘Hold My Hand’. But if it’s a bold move it’s also one which holds the room in hushed reverence as Cloher the storyteller comes to the fore, recounting her parents’ first meeting as told in an overheard conversation between them during their final years. Hearing it sang with all it says about the enduring power of love, with Cloher next to partner Courtney Barnett makes for a powerful image. But having delved into the personal, Cloher’s quick to pivot to the political, the Trump-swiping ‘Kinda Biblical’ taking on a forceful, menacing swagger alongside the hypnotic, metronomic ‘Analysis Paralysis’, which in turn gets delivered with the venom that only someone living through the same-sex marriage debate it references could muster.
The haunting beauty of album standout ‘Regional Echo’, featuring both evocative imagery and a critique of the Australian psyche, takes on a soaring gracefulness while her simultaneous lament to the tribulations of Australian artists and tribute to those who’ve trodden before her – ‘Great Australian Bite’ – bursts forth with a striking starkness (having acknowledged during its introduction the privileged position she’s in to be playing overseas, Cloher knowingly adds “it’s only taken me four fucking albums and twelve years…!”). The full-ahead charge of ‘Stone Age Brain’ – not to mention ‘Needle In The Hay’, wheeled out during the encore – only goes to reinforce the depth of Cloher’s canon, her standalone non-album tracks more than holding their own among a set cherrypicked form her acclaimed records.
It’s an evening that has the feeling of a celebratory victory lap rather than the opening of a new chapter. Playful looks and copious smiles are exchanged all evening between Barnett, Bones Sloane and Jen Sholakis, the latter also peppering the evening with light comedy asides (“light being the operative word” laughs Cloher, with a mix of endearment and despair). As Cloher plays ‘Forgot Myself’, the song that most honestly lays out the inner turmoil she faced during Barnett’s long periods of touring, there’s a sense of things going full circle as her partner stands at her side and helps her achieve her overdue success. As the night closes with the ebb and flow of ‘Name In Lights’ it’s hard not to get swept up in the infectious joy and wonder of the early stages of love it describes, the counterpoint to the description of the love of our twilight years laid out at the set’s start.
If this tour – and subsequent US dates – truly do represent the next chapter in Cloher’s career, the surprise should lie in the degree to which it’s overdue rather than that it’s happening at all. Irrespective of what the future holds, Cloher’s proved beyond any doubt that she’s more than ready to pick up the baton. The triumphant success it both promised and deserved to be, her UK debut has provided an evening to cherish.