Live Review: Vance Joy with Jaymes Young at Marquee Theatre, Tempe, AZ – 24th November 2014

By on Tuesday, 2nd December 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

I think most live music aficionados would agree that the atmosphere of a venue has an effect on the overall gig experience. Normally, that effect is fairly moderate, either a pleasant surprise or a mild annoyance, but in the most extreme cases, venue staff and policies can truly make or break a show. I found out last Monday night that the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Arizona, is one of those venues that could potentially go either way, even in the course of a single show. In this case, the gig in question featured Australian hit maker Vance Joy, supported by American blues rocker Jaymes Young. Originally scheduled for the more intimate Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix (where I saw The Antlers back in July), the show was upgraded to the larger Marquee Theatre due to the blossoming popularity of Joy’s recent debut album ‘Dream Your Life Away’.

The Marquee Theatre is located just outside of downtown Tempe, itself a suburb of Phoenix. This just-outside-of-downtown location is somewhat inconvenient, as the venue is nestled into an awkward spot at the intersection of the Salt River, the Tempe Light Rail, the Red Mountain Freeway and main downtown thoroughfare Mill Avenue. The Marquee does offer a limited amount of on-site parking, but because I had to make the two-hour drive from Tucson, I didn’t arrive anywhere near early enough to take advantage of it for this sold-out show. Parking and walking back to the venue took close to half an hour, and I passed no fewer than three ticket scalpers as I traversed the three blocks. Once I arrived, I stood in three different lines before entering the building. The first was for a bag search (my packet of gum was confiscated because the venue has just installed new flooring) and a body pat down (no, that’s not a joke). In the second line, I was asked for ID to confirm my age (which apparently has no bearing on my ability to control chewing gum). I then entered the third line to have my ticket scanned and only to discover that, though the venue offered electronic tickets, the staff were unable to scan the QR code on my smartphone. After the slightly annoying delay of having the code manually entered by the unfailingly polite entrance staff, I walked into the venue just as Jaymes Young strummed the first chords of ‘Habits of My Heart’ on his electric guitar.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDJOP16yNdY[/youtube]

Despite my tardy arrival, I was able to find a spot with a good view, even from the back of the room. One nice thing about the Marquee Theatre is its excellent sight lines and another major plus for the venue is the surprisingly clear quality of the acoustics. I was able to see and hear remarkably well from my place just in front of the sound station. (Unfortunately, my smartphone photos don’t do the sight lines any justice. A new camera is on my holiday wish list!) I can’t speak for what might have gone on nearer to the stage, but in the back of the room, my fellow gig-goers were easygoing and mellow, not at all bothered to push and shove for better position, as there was really no need.

Jaymes Young at Marquee Theatre 24 Nov 2014

The stage and sound set up at the Marquee were definitely favorable for opening act Jaymes Young. He and his two bandmates were able to play a their 7-song set with the benefit of full sound and lighting, which probably kept his r&b-flavoured alt-rock from becoming mere background music for the multitudes of Vance Joy fans. Judging from the occasional squeals and shouts from the crowd, Young had a fair few dedicated fans at the Marquee, and his cover of John Mayer’s ‘I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)’ was a particular favourite. Young and his mates were adept and personable on stage, but their original songs didn’t strike me as particularly special, especially after my recent exposure to English singer/songwriter James Bay. Bay and Young occupy similar niches in the blues rock troubadour market, but Young’s lyrics and vocals pale slightly in the comparison, as does his grey fedora alongside Bay’s trademark floppy headwear. Nevertheless, a quick post-concert listen on Spotify revealed that there might be more to Young’s songwriting than meets the eye (or ear?), and he is now officially on my radar.

Jaymes Young at Marquee Theatre 24 Nov 14

After the brief stage break, Vance Joy’s entrance was surprisingly understated if not actually anti-climactic. He met the enthusiastic applause of the audience with a rather shy smile as he launched into ‘Emmylou’ from his 2013 EP ‘God Loves You When You’re Dancing’. It was an interesting opening choice, as the track doesn’t appear on his hugely successful current LP, but Joy seemed intent on teasing his audience, making us wait to the very end for the songs we already knew and loved.

Vance Joy on the big screen at Marquee Theatre

For the meantime, Joy created a seamless if predictable set list, including 9 of the 13 tracks on ‘Dream Your Life Away’. I was especially pleased to hear ‘Georgia’, which is my personal favorite from the album, while older track ‘Snaggletooth’ garnered nostalgic applause from the members of the audience who were more familiar with Joy’s back catalogue. Joy and his bandmates played a tight, well-rehearsed set, which is to be expected as they near the end of their North American tour, but while the songs themselves were exquisitely performed, they did suffer from a slight lack of spontaneity. Joy himself was reserved on stage, keeping the between-songs conversation to a minimum and for the most part seeming content to stand behind the mic stand and sing. Aside from his guitar and ukulele playing, Joy’s stage movement consisted mostly of marching in place to the more upbeat numbers on the set list. For my money, Joy might do well to let this rather endearing quirk grow into a more natural stage presence to match the relaxed momentum of his music.

Vance Joy with ukulele at Marquee Theatre

Joy did noticeably relax when he started the intro to ‘Riptide’, which received an enormous wave of applause. The energy of the well-known radio hit might have benefited Joy earlier on in the show, as the subdued audience suddenly burst into lively dancing and singing along, and I finally shook off my crankiness about the evening’s earlier events. Joy received a similarly enthusiastic response to current American radio single ‘Mess is Mine’, which closed the set proper. I wondered at that point if Joy would be able to pull off an encore, but there he proved that he had at least one surprise up his sleeve. After an appropriate interval off stage, he and his bandmates reappeared to perform a charming extended version of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’, with an energetic reprise of ‘Riptide’ in the instrumental bridge.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/uJ_1HMAGb4k[/youtube]

Vance Joy will have plenty of opportunity to polish his onstage manner in the coming months. He will be on tour in America through mid-December before making a run of Australian dates early next year, and he has recently announced a summer 2015 tour of North America in support of Taylor Swift. A complete list of live dates can be found on Joy’s official Web site.

After the cut: Jaymes Young and Vance Joy’s set lists.

Jaymes Young Set List:
Habits of My Heart
Moondust
I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You) (John Mayer cover)
Dark Star
Parachute
Two More Minutes

Vance Joy Set List:
Emmylou
Red Eye
Play With Fire
Winds of Change
Georgia
Snaggletooth
My Kind of Man
From Afar
Wasted Time
Best That I Can
Riptide
Mess Is Mine
//
Stand By Me (Ben E. King cover)

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