Contrary to popular belief, Tones and I is not actually a teenager. Somewhere along the line, it was misreported that the 26-year-old rising star from Australia with themes of childhood in her songs was much younger than she is, and everyone ran with it.
The confusion surrounding her identity only adds to how incredible it is that a complete unknown busking on the streets less than a year ago played a song that topped the charts in over 30 countries at a sold-out show.
The crowd knew they were in for a night of off-kilter alternative pop music when the surf-pop quintet Lime Cordiale took the stage first and began with about two minutes of a trombone solo. Radiating the same undeniable cool as the headliner, they certainly owned their uniqueness and converted quite a few new fans.
Tones and I finally danced out of the shadows, wearing no shoes and her trademark baseball cap, and took a place at her keyboard. Kicking things off with a slower unreleased song that showed off her distinctive vocal tone, the crowd cheered at her first gravelly growl and she laughed in response.
Beginning with a song nobody knew was a bold move, but after all, she only actually has six songs out in the world. Drinks were raised in appreciation regardless.
In addition to the full extent of her debut EP The Kids Are Coming, Tones filled up the space with unreleased tracks and covers that were all deep house-influenced, to everyone’s surprise.
Her keyboard came with a loop pedal, and it was incredible to watch her build her songs from scratch, switching settings on her keyboard to add different sounds and percussion and finally turning it into something like an exhilarating version of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” that alternated between wistful singalong and pulsating club banger, ending with a decisive piano plunk.
Tones’ house influence didn’t end there, explaining that her ballad “Colourblind” about missing her friends from home was originally written as a deep house track as it was her friend’s favourite genre, playing the original high-tempo version instead.
Since Tones didn’t have an extensive catalogue to play, she instead told the crowd lengthy stories about how each song came to be and her life as a busker.
“People always came up to me and asked where they could find me,” she said. “But I told myself I wouldn’t release a song until I had 10,000 followers. I wanted to build a fanbase first.”
That song ended up being “Johnny Run Away,” a song about her friend coming out as gay to his disapproving father which Tones explained was very personal to her due to her strong stance on anti-bullying.
“I don’t know what a stan is, but if anyone is a stan for me, don’t bully anyone else. Ever,” she said, referencing some fake racist Tweets attempting to frame her that were doctored by Nicki Minaj’s online fan legion when Tones defeated their idol on the charts.
Tones had people moving all night with her upbeat 90’s pop anthems and vocal acrobatics – there truly is something refreshing about her music in today’s pop landscape, an element of unashamed fun and basslines that get in your bones and force you to dance – but the most interesting song genesis of all was attached to the big one, “Dance Monkey.”
Observing the impact that a brother duo had on people singing Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance” at a local talent show, Tones knew she wanted to make a song that made people move like that.
“I didn’t know it’d be the biggest song in the world one day!” she exclaimed, dropping into the opening notes to rapturous applause. The building turned into a nightclub as the audience all got down low to the ground and jumped up for the final chorus, Tones lying on the ground and kicking her socked feet in the air.
There’s a certain irony to the title of Tones’ biggest hit being a phrase referencing people wanting you to repeatedly perform your one trick. It was clear to see that sooner or later, Tones will have quite a few worldwide smashes to choose from.