REVIEW: Matt Corby, Wollongong ‘Secret Garden’ show

Click here for a full gallery of gorgeous pics from the gig.

Down a tree-arched driveway, in the leafy backyard of a weathered sharehouse in North Wollongong, is not where you’d normally expect to find the hottest gig in town. Suburban backyards aren’t often the venue of choice for most artists; as any of the two hundred-odd eager fans who crammed into this yard with picnic blankets and baskets would attest to you, Matt Corby isn’t “most artists.”

Corby is on his ‘Secret Garden’ tour, a run of invitation-only backyard shows around NSW, bringing his intimate tunes to intimate audiences, in solo acoustic mode. Corby – just days after having his track ‘Brother’ crowned as the third most popular track of 2011 by Triple J, and days before kicking off a big run of sold-out dates at some of Australia’s premier venues – rolled into Wollongong last Sunday afternoon, for what will go down as probably the most special local performance of 2012.

Paper cranes, chains cut out of newspaper and fairy lights dotted the trees and fences of this leafy, lush backyard as fans – lucky enough to receive invites after a ballot process – squashed under umbrellas and picnic rugs to stave off the spattering rain as Corby set up at the rear corner of the yard. Attendees were invited to bring picnic lunch and drinks to the gig, with crackers, sandwiches, dips, eskies, camp chairs, beer and wine dotting the lawn as the audience sat cross-legged on the grass. iPhones and digital cameras were whipped out as Corby, standing under a drooping jacaranda tree in the setting afternoon sun, took up his place armed only with a microphone and acoustic guitar.

For the next hour or so, Corby held the audience transfixed as the intimate, raw, acoustic-based tracks that the Australian public has come to know and love in recent months took on an even deeper, more emotional impact with his sound stripped back to just vocals and the most minimal of guitar licks. Loop pedals and effects gave a ghostly echo and reverb to his simple, sparse folk tracks. It’s easy to draw Bon Iver comparisons when speaking about Matt Corby, but despite tales of love lost and despair, confronting personal lyrics and fragile melodies, Corby somehow warmer, brighter , more optimistic. His banter between songs – speaking variously about getting kicked out of pubs in Cronulla, burning letters from ex-lovers and drunk girls losing their pants at his gigs – was disarmingly funny, his pearly white smile breaking out under tan skin and shaggy locks and beard. The nextdoor neighbours peering over the fence seemed perplexed; “why are all these people here?”

“It’s been pretty heavy to this point; it’s nice to get a little bit of love,” Corby said in what would probably be the understatement of the year. A wave of excitement rippled through the audience as the whooped opening to ‘Brother’ sang out, phones and cameras instantly raised to capture footage. Simple, bare bones guitar to introduce the track as vocals took the fore, his vocals were heavily echoed through effects, going from high falsetto to gruff growl. Volume built through the track, from quiet and simple to loud and distorted guitar, before ending in an almost frenzied, frenetic guitar shred in a very different take on the track.

With an encore cover of ‘Lonely Boy’ – “yeah, fine, I’ll do bloody ‘Lonely Boy,’ ” he laughed – after a shouted suggestion from the crowd, Corby gave a tender, delicate acoustic rendering of the Black Keys track. And with that, it was over.

Matt Corby is at the point where he can be selling out Metro Theatre-size venues with no trouble at all, yet he chooses to play leafy backyards in Wollongong and Manly and Rooty Hill and Canberra, walking around barefoot and playing to picnicking fans and staying around for hours before and after the gig to chat with fans and stand for pictures. This is a special time for Matt Corby, in the process of leaping from indie favourite to proper mainstream star in his own right; and judging from the rapt silence he had his audience in, and the raucous applause as his set finished, he won more than a few fans today.

Click here for a full gallery of gorgeous pics from the gig.

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