Runnin’ Down to the Riptide

Vance Joy at the Fillmore Miami Beach, reviewed by Mary Kate Turner

Are the days when you could buy a ticket to an 8 o’clock concert and actually see the performer at 8 completely gone? What about the days of the three-hour set, the soulful jam sessions, and the acoustic freestyle? Here instead are two opening acts that together last longer than the headliner, and hurried performances that sound identical to the records you can download on Spotify.

It’s not that Vance Joy (whose real name, fun fact, is actually James Keogh) wasn’t good. The Australian’s boyish charm radiated through his songs and his intermittent asides. It was, as The Miami New Times put it, the perfect escape from the chaos of Miami Music Week, and it was a great outing for my fourteen-year-old sister and me during my restful Spring Break at home.

After scrambling to make our way through Miami traffic to avoid being late, we made it to our mezzanine seats at 8 p.m. on the dot. The first opener, Jamie Lawson, a British singer-songwriter, had already begun his set. My sister immediately recognized him as one of the supporting acts she’d seen on Ed Sheeran’s X Tour last year; the “Wasn’t Expecting That” singer was the first artist signed to Sheeran’s record label, Gingerbread Man Records. Dressed in blue jeans and flannel, Lawson played a short and intimate acoustic set that certainly captured the attention of those of us who had actually arrived on time to see it.

Following Lawson was Blind Pilot, a 6-member Portland-based indie folk band. They performed beautifully, and the talent of each member shone through each number. Backup vocalist Kati Claborn played three different instruments—meanwhile Dave Jorgensen played the trumpet and the keyboard at the same time. And Israel Nebeker’s vocals pulled everything together to deliver a very wholesome sound that reminded me of The Head and the Heart or The Lone Bellow.

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Blind Pilot

Although performances were well delivered and enjoyable, it was well after 9 p.m. before the second act left the stage, and by 9:30, there was still no sign of Vance Joy. According to the clock on my phone, the lights went down and the band appeared on the stage at exactly 9:32 – an hour and a half after the time on my ticket (which did not by any means advertise Lawson or Blind Pilot as co-headliners).

While I was upset that we had been forced to wait so long for the main event, when I heard the opening chords of “Mess is Mine,” my excitement returned. After this first track, Joy welcomed us and introduced the premise of the next number. I felt a rush of bittersweet emotion when he then rolled into my favorite song of his, “Red Eye”; he played it perfectly, and I was especially moved by the lyrical light display, which accompanied the music beautifully. My only complaint here was that I was sad this piece had come and gone so early on in the show.

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My panorama of the gorgeous theatre.
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Joy playing “Georgia”

The set progressed very quickly, including songs “From Afar,” “Wasted Time,” and “Winds of Change.” He charmingly referred to all of his songs as “tunes” when describing what was next up, sharing thirty-second-or-so introductions before most songs about what had inspired him. Towards the end came another of my favorites, “Georgia,” and soon after, he closed out the hour-long set with his hit, “Riptide.”

After a couple minutes, Joy came back for an encore. Before starting, he told an anecdote about using words from a relative’s Facebook post in a song, only to find out the relative had been quoting Lynyrd Skynyrd and that his new song was straight plagiarism. (Don’t worry, he ended up fixing it after his parents informed him of his mistake.) The glimpse of the artist’s personality that we got here added a layer of intimacy to the show that I wished had been there all along.

After this, he ended up closing out the show with his latest single, “Fire and the Flood,” and by 10:45, we were on our way home.

As a loyal fan, I recognized just about every song he played, but towards the middle of the set, everything started to blend together. Joy and his band are very talented musicians, but the performance lacked soul. I was entertained because I am familiar with his music, but Joy didn’t seem to connect with the music or with the audience. For an artist who writes his own lyrics and whose music is so meaningful, I expected a more expressive performance. But Joy refused to move from his spot at center stage, never going off the cuff for a minute; there were several points where I felt as though I was listening to the recorded tracks themselves rather than witnessing a live performance. I craved a deeper connection.

When I’m at a concert, no matter how large or small the venue, I crave the intimate performance of a truly talented artist. Truly exceptional concerts happen when the artist reveals him or herself through their music, opening up and sharing a bit of his or her heart with the audience. An up-and-comer like Vance Joy should be striving to attain this standard that show-goers expect from a live performance, and I was disappointed to feel that I had been robbed of this experience.

Mary Kate Turner is a Baltimore-based beer lover and polka dot enthusiast.

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