There’s something surprisingly relaxing yet equally daunting as watching an orchestra accompany a contemporary artist. As I sat looking down at the side of the Sydney Opera House stage, you’d have been forgiven if you forgot that fronting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was Megan Washington. On night one of her current tour showcasing the tracks off her unreleased new album, the beauty in Washington’s vocals were matched by the intricacies and hypnotic skills of the orchestra.
Having seen her multiple times before, I was keen to see how the orchestra would interpret Washington’s older tracks, whilst also wondering how the album versions of her new tracks will differ to magic that was occurring on stage. And while she didn’t play many of the older tracks I’ve loved for years, she definitely didn’t disappoint with what was delivered in their place.
Opening with new track “Achilles Heart”, I became fixated on the unison of the strings in the orchestra. It truly is strangely hypnotic watching the orchestra musicians play identically to one another. Not just in time, but with the same angle of their instruments and apparatus’. Up next was “The Give”, a track that had a smooth, almost Disney feel to it. Again, it could have just been the arrangement for the night, but it really felt like a class track.
Moving into “Body Double”, you sensed this could be the next single off the album. It was very wordy and would prove to be too hard to sing on karaoke, but had a killer chorus. As the 2016 single “Saint Lo” made an appearance, Washington took the chance to tone it down even more and play the There There single “Limitless” on piano, with only the minimal backing from guitarist Alex Bennison. From a track I’d heard a million times on the playlist at my work over the past three years, hearing “Limitless” in quite a reduced version really was a pleasant and welcome surprise.
Explaining to the crowd that every track on her new album was a love song, Washington spoke about how she’d been listening to a heap of love songs during the writing process of her new album, and continually found herself being drawn to the song writing and lyrics of Roy Orbison. Having grown up in a household where the ‘Big O’ was on constantly, I was more than stoked to see her bust out a stripped back version of his classic “You Got It”. You know those tracks you’ve heard forever and find yourself singing the words even though for the life of you you can’t work out what it is? Yeah, this was me with “You Got It”. It’s a credit to Megan’s interpretation that I had to wait until the chorus to work out what she was singing.
Moving onto “American Spirit”, Washington explained she’d written it around the time Trump got elected. So while it might not have been a typical ‘love’ song, there was definitely some strong feelings within the track. Playing new track “Love You Best”, I was reminded about why I’ve loved Washington for the better part of ten years now. Of her new tracks, “Love You Best” seemed most reminiscent of her older material; which is a good thing.
Moving into her oldest of love songs, the brilliant “Lover/Soldier” was a stripped back masterpiece, as was “Begin Again”. A cover of the Roland S. Howard track “Shivers” turned up as the set began to draw to a close, as new tracks “Kiss Me Like We’re Going To Die” and “Future Proof” further proved the strength that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra were adding to the night. I honestly could have just watched them play, on mute if I had to, over and over again. It really is an hypnotic opportunity if you ever get the chance to watch a symphony play in this type of setting.
Closing the night on the incredibly sad, but oh so great “Katherine Wheel”, you sensed that this new album from Megan Washington will be the dawning of a new era for her in music. While we’re yet to hear the album versions of the tracks, based off the interpretations of the tracks tonight, I get the feeling she may be onto something special when the album comes out in 2018. I hope she is. I know she will be.
This review took place on the first of three nights at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo Credit: Christie Brewer.