REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents KATIE NOONAN’S VANGUARD

Evocative, experimental and enthralling

By Jessica Cornish

Kicking off her 2015 national tour promoting her latest crowd-funded record, Katie Noonan performed last weekend at Melbourne Festival’s Foxtel Hub. Back to her roots and travelling with trio of talented band mates Stu Hunter (keys), Declan Kelly (drummer), and Peter Koopman (guitarist), now known as Vanguard,  Noonan and her musicians performed a beautiful late-night set in the heart of Melbourne.

Katie Noonan

Armed with her percussive wooden cylinder, drum sticks, keyboard and an array of gaudy silver-animal bling, she belted out a mix of originals from her latest album Transmutant and some older songs such as ‘Sweet One’ written with world-famous artist Sia when they were both living in L.A. a decade ago, struggling with the image-obsessed and at times brutal music industry, and realising that they were part of each other’s strongest support networks.

It was definitely not your typical pop set – or even jazz for that matter, and I couldn’t even hum you back any melody featured in her songs. I think her works are best described as a mix of electronic pop-like ballads, incorporating many different textures of sounds and rhythm using synthesisers and pedal effects. At times the songs seemed to drift aimlessly with no real sense of purpose or direction and on reflection many of the songs seemed similar and merged into each other. However all her songs appeared to be of a highly personal nature and were reflections on those close to her life. She expressed her love for her two sons and their ability to find joy in daily life, and her distress dealing with the grief of the steady deterioration of her father’s health. Noonan’s voice is definitely a highlight of the performance, truly a stunning instrument and as perfect as any polished recording you could hear playing. She has a breathy, yet gutsy voice gliding in to her higher vocal range, so ultimately her songs trap you in the moment, and left me listening intently to every word and note she produced. To be honest it was hard to concentrate on anything else that was going on, including the funky LED-panelled backdrop and flashing lights.

Through out the evening Katie was incredibly engaging and honest with us as her audience. The night seemed more like a cabaret, providing insight in to the singer’s life and the people who surround her in everyday situations. She took the time to explain the backstory to all her songs (and I even learnt that the German super market ALDI never play music in their stores because they don’t want to pay licencing fees). That tale of continuous silence was even the springboard for another one of Katie’s latest musical creations featured in the hub that evening. Her interaction with her band mates was also really genuine and their close rapport was really nice to watch, as so often musicians go unnoticed by their well-known vocalists. She even performed a song she had written as a wedding gift for Hunter.

The Foxtel Hub was a great venue, it was intimate, had a punchy lighting rig and really clear, high quality sound. It was a real treat to see such an iconic Australian performer as part of the Melbourne Festival, and to top it off, while waiting for the doors to open, my Dad and I were inundated with complimentary alcohol and food tastings from local Melbourne restaurants. A lovely night out in all.