If Josh Pyke wasn’t holding a guitar he would look like your average plumber. A snazzy-looking plumber, dressed up in a skinny black tie and white shirt. The beardy, lean musician greeted the cheering audience with a smile and a simple nod, opening with the slow, soothing track ‘Goldmines’.
Despite the crowd of scarf-wearing twenty- to thirtysomethings, the atmosphere at the Forum Theatre was intimate and civilised, like a small house party.
The Love Lies Theatre Tour is not Pyke’s usual solo gig to promote a new album, but rather a special show with a supporting band. Pyke and his band showed off new instruments and threaded new melodies into selected songs from Pyke’s three albums and earlier EPs. The word ‘theatre’ originally seemed like a loose description; however, as the intensity in the performance grew, it became obvious that Pyke and his band were not just something to listen to, but also to watch.
The audience were in awe of the multi-tasking occurring on stage. The guitarist repeatedly swapped from guitar to the violin strapped to his shoulder during a song. The bass player also played the keyboard; the drummer changed from the drums to the glockenspiel. Pyke himself alternated between guitar, banjo and harmonica while also singing.
It was easy to be mesmerised by the Forum’s perfect acoustics. Every instrument could be heard at the correct volume with Pyke’s clear voice combining all together. Pyke’s song choices – he called them “oldies but goodies” – delighted the audience. The mood was a blend of nostalgia, sadness, love, depression and joy that made goosebumps prickle on the back of my knees.
Songs from his 2008 album Chimney’s Afire took the crowd back to the Australian summer, to the beach and to lazy days with friends. The audience knew ‘The Summer’ off by heart, happily singing away their blues: “there’d be sand in your pockets and nothing on your mind.” In moments like that, Pyke’s artistic influence could be felt.
Pyke broke up the show by inviting the support act Gossling back on stage. Pyke and Gossling performed a lovely duet version of ‘Punch in the Heart’. Complementing the relaxed surroundings, aqua and yellow lights revolved behind the band like a merry-go-round at night.
Pyke’s distinctive voice is difficult to describe; it’s more about the effect it had on the listener. “Mellow,” my friend suggested. “It’s like a pair of hands giving you a gentle massage,” I said.
We watched the crowd in front of us move rhythmically, like bobble-heads on a car dashboard. Pyke was calm, taking sips of whiskey and enjoying his performance as much as the audience loved listening to him.
He had also mastered friendly conversation to keep the mood light: “I just got a beard hair stuck between my teeth. It’s yucky.” But this was not just banter, but an opening to share a fun fact with the delighted audience. When he was a teenager, Pyke told the audience, he smashed parts of his front teeth at a bowling alley. Although he received a payout of four grand from the insurance company, instead of getting porcelain veneers he blew the money on travelling to Europe. So now his front teeth are mostly plastic.
“And they attract beard hairs,” Pyke concluded.
After an hour and 15 minutes the show closed with ‘Vibrations in the Air’, an emotionally powerful song that brought tears to my eyes and had the crowd pleading for more.
Josh Pyke’s Love Lies Theatre Tour heads to the Tivoli, Brisbane on Friday 18 May; and York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney on Saturday 19 May.
First published on The Enthusiast