Updated: Sep 6, 2022
“What a 24 hours it’s been,” pronounced Jess Smallwood, the tall, sun-blonde lead singer of Sunset Place at their gig - in honour of their debut single ‘Still Mourning’ last Thursday.
It takes energy to hold the crowd at a venue laid out the way Lazybones Lounge is, and it's more so a challenge on the very day new COVID restrictions are reintroduced. Just hours before the gig, dancing and standing were banned after a new case cropped up. I'm not sure whether that affected the mood of the crowd but at the start of the night, energy levels were noticeably subdued compared to gigs in the past few weeks.
Nevertheless, jazz quintet (and the runners up of 2019’s Bucharest International Jazz Competition) Anoesis started us off for the night. Surrounded by the venue’s iconic tin-pressed ceilings and kooky art deco furnishings, we felt like we’d time travelled back to the 1920’s.
The guys charmed us with their alto-tenor saxophone duo, thumping double bass, and a fun drum solo, helping us kick back with a glass of wine or three after a long day.
Next up was all-girl funk and soul band Monstress, whom I’d been eagerly anticipating, having seen them at a show a few months back. They’re known for frontwoman Sarah Homeh’s spunky spoken word poetry and fantastic cohesion as a band, whether they’re ripping out improvised solos or vibing together to Sarah’s fantastic vocals.
I think the layout of the venue worked a little against them here as we were so far back we couldn’t feel the full force of the band’s energy, and I wanted just a little more interaction with the audience because they’ve all got so much personality. But for audience members who aren’t knit picky, they still delivered with the style and pazazz that I’d loved them for when I first saw them.
Particularly memorable was a totally reconstructed cover of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ - almost the only thing that was the same were the lyrics. For their unfailing crowd pleaser and original ‘You Know Why’ - which features solos from all the band members - Monstress invited up two Sunset Place band members, singer Jess Smallwood and keyboardist Cat McGarrell, to perform backing vocals, which they did and spectacularly too.
But it’s when Sunset Place arrived onstage in full that we fell in love. Jess has an irresistible charm but particularly captured us with gorgeous haunting vocals that, over the course of the night, evoked Fiona Apple’s off-kilter ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ trilling.
The band did a gorgeous cover of Toploader’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ and at some point fellow musician Samuel Killick of ULTRAMEGA and Prog Dylan came up onstage to read aloud a poem penned by Cat (Sam has reached a Jams Fam record by appearing in a gig review, in one form or another, three times in a row*!)
There’s something about ‘Still Mourning’ that reminds me of a lo-fi London Grammar - perhaps it's Jess’s heartfelt crooning or Cat’s soothing keys. But more than comparing the group to any other artist, their debut stands out for its uplifting nature and, ultimately, the desire to recover. “Though my arms are weak, I’m going to pull myself out and swim to the shoreline,” sings Jess.
We’ve decided Sunset Place, with its undertone of optimism, is a definite add for a chill weekend soundtrack. Whether it’s actually a sunny day and you’re with your mates in the park, whether it’s grey and rainy and you’re home alone, and whether you get to dance at a gig or not - Sunset Place is a band that’s there for you when you need it. Send more tunes our way please.
To hear interviews with Sydney artists follow our podcast - JAMs: A Taste of Sydney’s Music Scene.
Want to discover some more Sydney music? Follow our Spotify playlist - JAMs Jams’
If there are any topics you would like us to cover, if you have any feedback or you have a great idea to help the Sydney music scene thrive - shoot us a message over socials or email us!