Forget everything you know about Guy Sebastian. Now, allow me to describe to you an artist whose voice, energy, and undeniable musical talent reaches behind cynicism and invites us to experience pop music as it was always meant to be: powerful, relatable, enjoyable. Titled Sub-Conscious, the intimate preview of his forthcoming album, Conscious, introduced to an Oxford Art Factory populated by long-time fans and newcomers alike, a Guy Sebastian untethered from his past.
While my image of Sebastian has admittedly been preserved in the amber of the mid-2000s, his departure from conventional ballad pop and R&B had me, in a word, shook. Sebastian, of course, remains as ever a master of his vocal instrument, but on the heels of acclaimed 2016 EP release, Part 1, the Sub-Conscious tour is a commendable re-introduction to one of Australia’s greatest pop talents.
Opening the night was Darwin singer-songwriter, Caiti Baker, with an acoustic interpretation of her genre-hopping solo act. One half of electronic-soul duo, Sietta, Baker’s rich, soulful voice brings together elements of country, jazz, and R&B for an eclectic sound that while intriguing, could stand to be more defined. Accompanied on guitar by former Triple J announcer, Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall, Baker performs a mixture of originals and covers to a buzzing, if slightly distracted audience, bringing it home with a vocally stunning rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.
Normally, between the supporting and headline act, there’s a small window during which the crowd repositions itself and, if you’re smart, you can elbow your way to that hallowed space just behind the barrier. It is a testament to the commitment of Guy Sebastian devotees that no mere smile and sidle could get me any nearer to the stage. Resigned to my measly five rows back, I survey the demographic assortment of fans who seem unsure of, yet excited by the prospects of the night.
With the zen confidence of 14 years of performing experience behind him, Sebastian launches into 2015 single “Black & Blue”. His trademark silky vocals layered over an edgy, electro-pop groove, “Black & Blue” instantly raises the energy levels in the venue, following with EP track “Home”, a sultry trap-style number that has the audience pulsing in sync.
Joining Sebastian on stage is a multi-talented four-piece ensemble comprised of vocalists Gary Pinto and Carmen Smith, multi-instrumentalist Luke Liang and drummer Lachlan West, who collectively bring studio quality sound to the intimate setting of Oxford Art Factory. Considering that some of the material was written as recently as two weeks ago, the onstage chemistry between Sebastian and his band is nothing short of magnetic. A delivery as tight as it was energetic, it’s been some time since I’ve witnessed a performance that so wholly captures the attention of its audience.
The set list maintained a harmonious balance between testing the waters of new tracks such as “Vesuvius” and “Sober”, and crowd pleasers “Like a Drum” and LDRU cover “Keeping Score”. Regaling the crowd between songs with charming tales of his inspiration, it is Sebastian’s ability to inject raw emotion into vibrant pop arrangements that truly engaged the audience. The jam-session vibe Sebastian aimed for reaches its peak with Pinto taking lead vocals on Boyz II Men cover “End of the Road”.
As the night wears on, Sebastian continues to deliver quality tracks that speak to those universal experiences of life and love that make pop music so ubiquitous, and frankly necessary. With relatable tracks like “Stay in Bed” and “High On Me”, Subconscious doesn’t break the mould, nor does Sebastian intend it to. This is not to say that the material lacks originality or finesse; Sebastian experiments with a broader range of styles and genres than we’ve previously seen, which, when mixed with the musical expertise of himself and his band, creates a truly captivating live experience.
More than anything, this is a performance focused on truth in the creative process than reception. It is, perhaps, this honesty that endears Guy Sebastian even more to his audience.
Set for release in June this year, Conscious promises to be an album that renegotiates Sebastian’s place within Australia’s pop scene.
The reviewer attended this show on April 5th.