Natalie Prass with Stella Donnelly at the Fox Cabaret 9/25/18
For fans of pop music that takes influence from the musical traditions of yesteryear, Natalie Prass’ concert at the Fox Cabaret was a remarkable 90 minutes of pop craftsmanship.
Bouncing between genres such as disco, soul, R&B and even yacht-rock, her set showcased the emotional strength of her songwriting and left her audience in awe of it all.
The night opened with an enjoyable folk set from Stella Donnelly, a young singer-songwriter from Australia. Performing solo on an electric guitar, her songs walked a tightrope between the personal and the political. Some were luminescent ballads about relationships gone wrong, while others provided biting scorn towards racist family members and sexist bosses. Donnelly was a joy to watch, not only for her music but also for her profanity-laden banter between — and sometimes even during — songs.
Prass and her band opened in style, walking on stage to “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”(!) while the crowd cheered them on. However, there was a bit of awkwardness in the room during her first two songs. She opened with “Oh My” and “The Fire,” two upbeat tracks that sounded fantastic but got a quiet response from the small, mostly standstill audience. When trying to chat with them, it seemed as if Prass wished things were a little more lively.
Fortunately, this subsided once she played some of her slower tracks and the audience settled into her groove. “Never Over You” was a tender standout ballad, while “Hot for the Mountain” contained some of the show’s most interesting musicianship. Over jazz piano, slide guitar and a somewhat creepy chord progression, Prass sang a song about uncertainty that was oddly powerful in its temperance.
From the charming pop of “Never Too Late” to the noise guitar catharsis of “Ship Go Down,” Prass knocked out one incredible song after another. An unexpected secret ingredient throughout it all was the keyboard player’s use of an electric jazz piano sound, which added a very welcome Steely Dan-esque sheen into the mix.
The night hit its emotional peak during “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” in which Prass’ uplifting voice soared through the music and melted hearts amidst a brutally sad coda.
Prass was in in a jolly mood throughout the show, cracking jokes about the Fox Cabaret’s history as a porn theatre, and raising questions about the giant fake zebra head mounted about the bar. (Memorable quote: “that zebra has seen some things!”) The audience may have been small, but they diligently cheered after every song.
When the band announced they were going to call it a night, the cheering crowd convinced Prass to stay for one more song. Unexpectedly, the song she played was an unreleased one — a devastating ballad titled “Last Time” that just might be sadder than anything else in her catalogue. It was a lovely gift to the crowd, who started the night off shy, but were completely won over by the end.
Check out Vancouver Weekly‘s recent interview with Natalie Prass here.