Sarah McLeod @ 48 Watt St, Newcastle NSW Australia 12/10/2017 written by Brendan Lewis.
Well holy s***, Sarah McLeod a.k.a Australia’s queen of rock, or more appropriately in this scenario, goddess of rock (will make sense shortly), brings her 1st solo tour for her rockin’ album ‘Rocky’s Diner’, to 48 Watt St. This venue despite the name, is not just someone’s house or a brothel (kids, ask your parents) no, it’s a freakin’ church….. makes sense now? I’m so glad I didn’t burst into flames upon entering this sanctimonious venue to my surprise, because I’m keen for some god-dam rock n’ roll, are you?
Tonights’ sermon is started off with a holy bang, as Sarah rips into a cover of Mahalia Jackson’s 'Lord Don’t Move The Mountain’ which according to Sarah’s recollection of tonights’ setlist, is conjoined to ‘Summertime’ and again without pause is flowed straight into ‘Pines’. Here I am thinking this is just one long-ass awesome blues-rock song, I mean, Sarah’s incredibly powerful voice and the amazing precision and technique’s of her drummer has made me a little entranced and I haven’t noticed any separation in the three songs. Even with Sarah’s hands being full with her guitar which she cleverly emulates a bass guitar simultaneously with her guitar sounds with the use of effects pedals, she still moves around and rocks out while tearing it up with a guitar solo.
Sarah now thanks tonights congregation and introduces us all to her drummer/keyboardist, before the next offering ‘Ashtray Sunrise’. This offering brings the beat right up to a rockin’ groove, yet the audience is still way too calm and standing back far away from the alter/stage, leaving me all alone up at the front, regardless of Sarah’s intense musical power and ripper guitar playing. Sarah’s well-trained vocals that aren’t just audible and mixed adequately in the mix of sounds, they stand tall above the sound and astonishing especially as they reverberate perfectly throughout the acoustics of this old building. I personally think this would’ve been a more appropriate opening song rather than the three conjoined songs before it, as this songs up-beat dynamics and soaring vocals really catch your attention by the holy-balls, however I think Sarah chose to open the show as she has to show off her vast musical technique and stunning vocals which did work nicely, I’ll leave that judgement up to you.
Sarah thanks us all yet again for coming, and brightens up the vibe with her bubbly and down to earth chatter, which I’m honestly having a little bit of trouble interpreting exactly what she’s saying, as the acoustics in this venue may be perfect to resonate the sung vocals, however speaking quickly and naturally as Sarah is currently, echo’s and reverberates a little too much for my liking. No matter, the music is picked up once more with slower groovy track which puts us all 'In The Mood’ followed by stand out track for me off Sarah’s debut solo LP, ‘Giants’. The first of these songs does feature a slight lessoning of energy on stage, and if my shotty sight serves me well, simply features some funky swaying around from Sarah as her voice excels perfectly. The energy is brought up ever so slightly for ‘Giants’ with Sarah’s stunning voice accurate to the recording, reaching climatic power.
The climatic power is now sustained for single track ‘Wild Hearts’. Sarah and her drummer soften the pre-chorus and pause for a second or so, so when the chorus hits, it hits hard, explodes and sends euphoric energy throughout the hall. This with Sarah alternating some notes in the chorus nearing the songs end gave the set the perfect boost it needed!
I’m now reminded of Sarah’s love to talk and share stories as I discovered whilst chatting to her two weeks earlier, as Sarah casually chats to us sharing anecdotes of her journey and songwriting experiences so far, before she heads into the next passage, album titled track ‘Rocky’s Diner’ (if my musical ear serves me right) with its groovy blues-rock feels and nifty guitar solo. Hmmm this paragraph is still quite short, so I might mention here that the lighting tonight so far has been very basic solid white that differs only in intensity not pattern. This would normally be disappointing, however for a diner themed, casual groovy rock show, its quite appropriate, and lets face it, Sarah’s power-punching vocals distract you from the lighting anyway.
Next Sarah spruces things up a bit with an alternative high-tempo party-rock anthem version of her track ‘Northern Lights’ which appropriately does draw the audience ever so slightly closer to the front to get a better scoop of this awesome energetic track. Being sped up dramatically, this song does come to an inevitable close quickly, but is followed up with the song flowing perfectly into sexy track ‘Bad Valentine’. Sarah dances around the stage in a seductive sultry-like manner which reminds me of a burlesque bar which is oh so fitting of this venue! Sarah’s saucy dance moves and her spine-tingling soaring vocals definitely solidifies all our attention….. mainly the male population of the crowd. With a nice big thumping drum finish to ‘Bad Valentine’, Sarah’s drummer who’s name I didn’t catch, shows off his skills with a big-bad drum solo which always goes down well at a rock show and understandably beckons a hardy cheer from us in the audience. This drum solo which features differing lighting patterns surprisingly, ties in perfectly to the previous song and again to the next keeping the continuity going superbly.
As we draw closer to the end of the set, ‘No One Likes To Be The First To Say Goodbye’ is up now…. wow what a mouth full of a name. This song brings a pleasant sway feeling to the night which also brings with it some well complimenting male harmonies from the drummer, and reminds me of that piano duet song that everyone learns in primary school, ‘Heart and Soul’? Regardless, this song adds a nice touch of flavour to the mix leading into the home stretch.
The home stretch features two up-beat rippers which Sarah rocks out and moves around the stage to, projecting her musical energy brilliantly. The home stretch also sees Sarah make the classic hit ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ her own, and a better version of it, if I may say so myself.
Sarah’s powerful melodic vocal bursts of emotion, and contrast between high and low tones demonstrating Sarah’s vast vocal range, sends shivers down my spine.
Sarah now gets her drummer to fetch her beloved Chachi (dog) a.k.a “the star of the show” who has not missed a single show on this tour, and when I interviewed Sarah two weeks prior, she explained how truly special the connection she and Chachi has. Sarah continues to grace us all with her love of talking and story telling, before bringing up some friends to help her sing the final two songs, ‘Rocky’s Reprise’ and finally ‘Blue Moon/Dream’. These songs that Sarah practices/ corrects herself in the intro of ‘Rocky’s Reprise’ adding some nice human imperfection was a beautiful collaboration between Sarah, her drummer and friends’ accompanying vocals, and gave the feeling of just a bunch of friends sitting at a lonely hearts diner, jamming, having a good time and enjoying some tunes which was the perfect way to finish this casual, high-spirited set!
Sarah’s incredible soaring vocals and humble/bubbly personality went down nicely for my musical palate and I really do stick by my description of her being “Australia’s queen of rock”. I very much look forward to many more shows from her and from her in The Superjesus in the hopefully near future and I would advise any rock music fan to check her live shows out!