Filed under: Reviews
The first time I had the opportunity to see Vance Joy live was in September 2013, and he was far from the household name he's become since his single, "Riptide", blew up worldwide in 2014. The song (along with the EP it appears on, God Loves You When You're Dancing) was already a huge hit in his native Australia, but North American audiences hadn't yet caught wind of his folk-pop mastery. The only reason I ended up at the tiny FolkExchange (a little venue that the Winnipeg Folk Festival used to run) with about 40 other folks was because he had come highly recommended from a friend's dad who worked for Joy's label. It was just Vance Joy accompanied by his ukulele or guitar, and his songwriting and likability shone through to the small but enamoured crowd.
Flash forward nearly 10 years and Vance Joy made his long-awaited fifth appearance in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, his first since 2018 after COVID cancellations took out both his planned 2020 Folk Fest appearance and an early 2021 tour stop. The venue this time around was the 2300-seat Centennial Concert Hall, and the packed house was filled with Vance Joy superfans who were on their feet by the second song. A stark contrast to the curious but appreciative 40ish folks in 2013 quietly listening to new songs from the Aussie singer-songwriter, Tuesday saw thousands of folks singing along at the top of their lungs to hits like "Saturday Sun" from 2018's Nation of Two, and "Fire and the Flood" and "Georgia" from 2014's Dream Your Life Away.
Joy alternated between several guitars and ukelele, while a backing band of 5 talented musicians filled out the high-energy folk songs with drums, bass, keys, electric guitar, and horns. Halfway through his set, Joy serenaded the crowd solo with "Way That I'm Going" (from 2022's In Our Own Sweet Time), with the backing band getting a rest and the crowd taking a cue and sitting down for a brief moment. But they were already back up on their feet by the next song, "I'm With You" from Nation of Two, (Overheard from a woman to her friends: "We have to get up. It's a classic!") The majority of those in attendance didn't sit down again for the rest of the roughly 90-minute headlining set.
Eschewing an encore, Joy announced that they had 3 songs to go, and began strumming the familiar chords to "Riptide" on his ukulele, prompting the loudest singalong of the night. Before closing off the night with "Lay it on Me", he and his band tore through their only cover of the night, a rousing rendition of ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" -- which included a clever interlude of Madonna's "Hung Up" -- that the crowd absolutely ate up.
It's quite something to see a talented and deserving singer-songwriter go from strumming some chords in an intimate space to having over 2000 people singing along to song after song. It was clear from the energy all night that Winnipeggers had been waiting too long to see Vance Joy live, and he definitely delivered. Hopefully it's not another 5 years until we get to see him around these parts again.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found putting on and promoting music and comedy events with The Purple Room in Winnipeg, or co-producing the live comedy game shows Pants on Fire and The Great Patio Showdown. (@comedygeek)