Sun, sea, surf and we are beautiful.
The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire was buzzing with anticipatory excitement for this Thursday evening – the return of the exuberant Aussie threesome, Sons of the East, to London Town.
First on stage was the soulful British singer and songwriter, Ash Radford. His richly-toned vocals and percussive guitar playing showcased an impressive range and powerful, often minimal, lyrics. In the track Dance With Me, melodies meandered with an improvised feel. Here, Ash displayed his lovely rich lower register, and the music carried a tentative, fragile quality. The crowd showed warm appreciation for his versatile, layered guitar skills, introspective messages, and folksy, finger-picking style.
Next up were The Dreggs, namely Paddy and Zane; two Aussie guys who, in their own words, “sing and tell stories”. Their long hair and matching outfits, synchronised moustaches, and caps, with braces holding up grey trousers, framed their indie/folksy style perfectly. A significant portion of tonight’s young, wholesome audience seemed familiar with The Dreggs’ repertoire, singing along in sync with the dynamic contrasts – fortissimo choruses and often pianissimo, gentle endings, each song concluding with adoring applause.
After the first song, the tempo surged; a country beat and a cheerful, upbeat rhythm, contrasting with sad lyrics, took over as they performed “Let You Go”. At the end of this second song, which features impressive octave leaps and harmonies, Paddy exclaimed jubilantly, “Holy hell – we’re in London!”
“The Forest Song” followed, announced to ecstatic shrieks and screams from the excited crowd. After a slow intro, the call was, “London – are you ready?” Double-speed strumming, a super-tight sound, and a little dance with some joyous kicks showcased The Dreggs at their buoyant best. Zane announced their delight at being in London, marking the first night of their tour and their thrill to be supporting Sons of the East.
“Call Me Home” features a rich tapestry of harmony and a soulful harmonica, while “Madeline” showcases a sadder tone, stark dynamic contrasts, and strong vocals. Both songs highlight The Dreggs’ innate talent for conveying passionate narratives through music. The despairing and pleading lyrics intensify as the music transitions into compound time, and the guitar strumming crescendos to a roaring climax, with vocals laden with emotion.
The atmosphere transformed for their “most popular song on Spotify” – a foot-stomping, crowd-clapping “Give Myself to You”. Soon after, the guitar was exchanged for a banjo, then reverted to guitars for the grand finale – a poignant song about displacement and the quest for happiness.
The London-born couple at the front had toured Australia in a camper-van during the lockdown, where they chanced upon The Dreggs and became ardent fans. Their discovery resonated, as Paddy and Zane’s music, reminiscent of sea, sand, and surf, seemed like the ideal musical accompaniment for a journey.
The Shepherds Bush Empire is packed to the rafters by now. Sons of the East, the virtuosic trio comprised of Nic Johnston (vocals/keys), Jack Rollins (vocals/guitar), and Dan Wallage (guitar/banjo/vocals), commence their stellar performance. The stage seems to burst into radiant sunlight as they kick off with their first song, “California,” a euphoric and irresistibly upbeat track. The elation builds until the catchy melody unexpectedly transitions into compound time, quickening everything in the most exhilarating way.
Jack takes a moment to address the audience, emotionally declaring, “You sound beautiful…you look beautiful!” He shares that tonight’s show is the largest they’ve ever sold out. Jack then thanks everyone effusively before rewarding the audience with a performance of “Miramare.” This gentle and melodic song epitomizes their style, marked by a catchy tune, tight harmonies, and a harmoniously balanced sound.
“Can’t Fool Me” is an ideal showcase for Jack’s playful confidence – especially after his heartfelt introduction – and spotlights Nic’s impressive jazz piano skills. The trio’s harmonies are as tantalizing as they are ingenious.
“What I Do” is succeeded by a brand-new track, “Hard to Tell.” In fact, its debut was just two nights prior in Edinburgh. Each song from Sons of the East feels like a gift: they typically begin with a solo guitar riff and a straightforward vocal melody, then layer in their distinctive, folksy instrumentation, culminating in a resonant, artfully constructed piece.
Sons of the East envelop us in a musical euphoria, reminiscent of riding a titanic wave. The performance eclipses any conventional sense of time or space, immersing the audience in their effortlessly cool, brilliantly crafted, and profoundly enjoyable tracks. The seamless synergy of everyone on stage is palpable. Highlight tracks from their debut album, “Palomar Parade”, such as “You Might Think” where Jack becomes one with the crowd, and “Millionaire” – characterized by Jack’s rich, sultry vocals that craft their hallmark sun-soaked sound – mesmerize the Shepherds Bush Empire tonight
The closing trio of songs – “My Repair,” “Undone,” and “Hold On” – encapsulate the night’s vibrant jubilation. Everyone needs Sons of the East’s sound in their lives – it’s the pinnacle of summertime ecstasy, a burst of elation and happiness, a sense that all is right in the world.
Sons of the East (Ash Radford, The Dreggs) played Shepherd’s Bush Empire
July 20th 2023
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