Written By | Nathan Washington
Fresh off her performance at the Auckland leg of the touring Laneway Festival, English R&B artist Jorja Smith is playing a sold-out show at Forum Melbourne tonight, and after cancelling some of her sets on the Laneway circuit in order to attend the Grammys for her Best New Artist nomination, this is the only chance for Victorian gig-goers to catch her on tour. Therefore, fans from near and far are making the most of the opportunity, queuing up around the block before doors open to make sure they don’t miss out on a good vantage point.
Castlemaine local and teen sensation KIAN is here to open the night for Jorja, emerging to an already packed crowd. 16 years old and having recently won Triple J’s Unearthed High competition for 2018, he is making waves in the Victorian music scene, and for good reason: a blend of Australian indie pop and hip hop sounds, KIAN delivers a set full of smooth vocal hooks, catchy guitar-work and a couple of unexpected features. The band in support, comprising of a drummer, bassist/synth player and guitarist, provide a great foundation and backing for KIAN’s talented vocals, and the welcoming of 15 year old Shepparton rapper Vince the Kid onto stage is a nice surprise for the audience, the two young artists performing their track Too Far Gone together and getting fans dancing and singing along.
After a few solo tracks showcasing his expressive voice and ability to connect with an audience through his songwriting and lyricism, all the while making the crowd sway from side to side, KIAN welcomes up another guest, Indigenous Australian hip hop artist Baker Boy. Cheers for the duo are heard before they launch into their 2017 hit Cloud 9, KIAN’s first commercial feature and taste of the Australian music scene, with Baker Boy wildly rapping over the instrumentation and KIAN’s dreamy vocals filling out the hook perfectly. Finally, after bidding goodnight to the crowd, KIAN plays the track that fans have been waiting for, hit single Waiting quickly becoming a whole-audience singalong. It is a fitting end to the captivating performance, with the song having recently been voted number 20 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 and capping off an amazing 2018 for the young artist, while his performance tonight shows that he’s just getting started, and is seriously an artist to watch in years to come.
Jorja Smith’s band takes the stage before she does herself, anticipation rippling through the sold-out crowd. Launching into a soulful instrumental of drums, bass, guitar and synth, the audience roars as the 21-year-old artist finally walks out, a beaming smile on her face highlighted by a spotlight that will follow her around faithfully for the rest of the set. After dazzling the audience with the opening track off her 2018 debut album Lost & Found, she greets the fans who have turned up in their thousands to see her only Victorian performance of the tour. It is clear that the last couple of years have been a whirlwind for the Walsall-born R&B singer, still coming to terms with the masses of supporters she has gained through a combination of charming personality and her incredibly powerful and soulful voice, as well as the flood of awards show nominations coming off the back of her debut album that she has received.
However, it’s also quickly evident early on in her set that she shines on stage, dominating and engaging the crowd with everything from warm smiles and fan interactions between songs to hip-swivelling dance moves, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. Her band provides the perfect backing for her smooth R&B style, with gorgeous bass-lines and swelling synths complimenting her incredible vocal performance. They clearly can hold their own too, as at one point when Smith leaves the stage the band embark on a frenetic instrumental version of one of her tracks, complete with a ridiculously tight drum solo and flashing strobe lighting. Welcomed back onto stage with another round of cheers, the show continues to gain intensity as Smith belts out multiple fan favourites, audience members singing along passionately and attempting to hit the same incredible high notes that she so consistently does with ease.
As the set reaches a climax, Jorja plays her 2016 breakout hit Blue Lights with fittingly police-themed strobes flashing and sirens blaring through the speakers, a song which powerfully combines smooth, soulful vocals and the serious, personal subject matter that she writes so many of her songs with. The audience sings along, belting out the chorus in unison and appreciating the last moments of the incredible performance that Smith has put on tonight. However, shortly after she leaves the stage for a second time, fans are treated to a lengthy encore, including a heartfelt ballad with interludes of laughter as crowd members call out to her and are greeted with laughter and shushes, telling the audience how much she appreciates the massive Melbourne turnout and support. She departs for the final time to a venue full of applause and cheers, as the audience are left in awe of the incredibly powerful performance and vocal talent she has showcased, fans already looking forward to her next visit to Australia.
Fans at Forum Melbourne were lucky to witness an incredible night of vocal performances from a variety of promising young artists, both local and international. KIAN gave the audience an opening set to remember and is sure to have made more than a few new fans with his unique blend of indie pop and hip hop, while emerging superstar Jorja Smith blew fans away with her incredible voice and heartfelt interactions. After her remaining Laneway Festival appearances, Jorja will be shortly making her debut appearance at the Grammy Awards, with hopes to be awarded Best New Artist of 2018.