[LIVE REVIEW] Montaigne + Stevie Jean // UOW Unibar // 30/11/19

Sydney-based singer-songwriter Montaigne brought her month-long national Complex tour to a close on Saturday night, playing to an intimate Wollongong crowd at UOW Unibar.

Having last played to Wollongong crowds as part of the Yours & Owls Festival back in 2017, it was a long overdue return to the city. Montaigne has been no stranger to touring in 2019, having already toured in April with the For Your Love tour, however with the release of her second album Complex in August, this tour promised a whole new bank of music that was sure to delight both her fans and Wollongong music lovers.

With Miss Blanks ruled out as support for the night due to illness, the support duties were left solely to Stevie Jean, who certainly stepped up to the plate. As a relatively unknown quantity, supporting Montaigne nationally has no doubt been the perfect opportunity for the 20-year-old to show off her skills as both a singer and a musician. Taking the stage with just herself and a guitar, Stevie Jean caught the attention of the growing crowd from the very first song. With a musical style and voice akin to a combination of The Black Keys, Angie McMahon and Lana Del Rey, Stevie Jean was the perfect compliment to Montaigne’s art pop musicality. Highlights of her set included the opener Nervous, Hell in Every Religion, the self-proclaimed ‘most romantic song I’ve ever written’ You’re Okay I Guess and her final song, December Song. Stevie Jean is most definitely going places and will be one to watch into 2020.

It was then time for the star of the night, as Montaigne finally took the stage. Right off the bat, it was clear that we were in for a high energy show as she launched with the album opener CHANGE, starting from a ‘power pose’ that had the crowd engaged before we even heard a single note. All night, Montaigne did not let the small size of the stage stop her from jumping and dancing across it with the energy of a child on a sugar rush.

After singing and dancing her way through the first song with impressive quality, she then took the time to talk to the crowd, explaining that she has been performing the album Complex in its entirety in order, with a few old favourites thrown in. I have always been someone who believes in playing albums in order – there is always a reason the songs are in the order they are – and for Montaigne to make the decision to also perform her album in this way allowed her to take the crowd with her on a cohesive journey from beginning to end.

This led into the title track Complex, which was a highlight of the night as she seamlessly pushed through the wordy lyrical content of the song while continuing to dance and twirl with unlimited energy.

It quickly became clear that personal stories and meanings behind each song would become a theme across the night, as she once again paused to speak to the crowd, explaining the idea behind the song before launching into the first single from the album, For Your Love. She then finished off the story arch beginning with Complex and ending with Because I Love You from her first album Glorious Heights, first talking about how the three songs were all written about the same person and relationship, and that if she had those songs written about her she would “check myself before I future wreck myself” and that writing and performing them felt like a reimbursement for the wasted 9 month relationship. Because I Love You was a key song in terms of crowd interaction, as she went across the front (and side) of the stage, holding the hands of audience members whilst almost chanting ‘because I love you’ to every single one.

Montaigne then carried on with more tracks from Complex, jumping into Love Might Be Found (Volcano), which was arguably one of the vocally strongest songs of the night. This was followed by another crowd chat, explaining the inspiration behind The Dying Song as the idea of what if it was left to one person the save the world (like a video game) and they only had once chance and failed – everyone would die – but “everything’s gonna end anyway, may as well just have a sing”. This was definitely a crowd favourite, as the whole crowd jumped and sang along with Montaigne.

After the high energy of The Dying Song, she then picked up a guitar and took a break from her (impeccable) dancing to perform Please You, a hidden gem of the night as it brought the focus back to her incredible vocals. This led into one of the most emotional and vulnerable tracks on the album – Stockholm Syndrome – which was prefaced by a candid and poignant conversation between Montaigne and the crowd about the topic of the song, gaslighting, and declarations of Scott Morrison being a fuckhead for not making therapy accessible. While performing this song, the crowd undeniably saw Montaigne at her most honest and vulnerable as she appeared almost paralysed throughout, rarely even opening her eyes, as she became completely lost in the song.

This led straight into Pleasure, which again showcased her superb vocals, particularly in the bridge with her enviable sustained notes which never seem to even waver. Following this came my personal favourite song from the album (and of the night), is this all I am good for?, which begun with a conversation about where the song originated (seeing Nick Cave at ICC Sydney) and somehow ended up as an almost 5 minute back-and-forth between Montaigne and the crowd, as positive affirmations were thrown around and declarations of love were aplenty.

On the home stretch came the final two songs from the albums, firstly I am a Clown, which once again had Montaigne dancing across the stage as she hit high notes that would make anyone, singer or not, envious. Before performing the ‘final’ song of the night, the anthemic READY, Montaigne took her final chance to talk to the crowd, thanking them for coming to the last show of the tour, saying ‘It’s nice to have an audience that listens to me when I speak and gives me real-life affirmations.’ She also joked about the difficulty of doing a traditional encore in such a small venue and told the crowd ‘I’m just gonna stand here for a bit and then keep going, okay?’

She then launched into READY, as the perfect set closer, as both the crowd and Montaigne kept the energy until the very last night. Then came the aforementioned encore, which was still met with chants of ‘one more song’ and ‘encore’ even though she couldn’t even leave the stage. The actual final song of the night came in the form of one of her earliest tracks from 2014, I’m a Fantastic Wreck, which is vocally one of her strongest and most intriguing to date. One of the (arguably) best parts of the night came as the drummer literally threw a cymbal into the drum kit to recreate the sound from the original song. As she completed her set, Montaigne left the stage to cheering and applause from the entire crowd, before hanging around to hug and chat with almost every member of the crowd.

Montaigne has and always will be one of my favourite Australian singers, and after seeing her performance at Unibar, this love has only increased. She is easily one of the most energetic, emphatic and exciting performers of the moment, and at only 24, she no doubt has a long music career ahead.

You can next catch Montaigne at Falls Festival over the New Year period.

Review – Jess Oehm