Live Review: Ben Abraham w/ Rowena Wise @ Junk Bar
Just before Ben Abraham’s 5pm Saturday show, an intimate crowd gathered inside Brisbane’s eclectic Junk bar waiting to see the Melbournian singer-songwriter debut brand new tracks from his album ‘Sirens’.
Melbourne songstress Rowena Wise kicked things off, looking like a picture out of a wartime storybook in her khaki dress and combat boots. The crowd didn’t take long to realise that this girl was something special as she warmed up the stage with gentle, endearing folk music, a voice like K. D. Lang’s, and a beautifully subtle fingerpicking style on the guitar.
Rowena’s mixed bag of original songs was a haven for poignant lyrics and pure, charming melodies.
Rowena’s mixed bag of original songs was a haven for poignant lyrics and pure, charming melodies. She had a background story to go with each number, adding such depth to the music that the audience couldn’t help falling in love with her personality as much as her lyrics and open performance style.
Her impromptu set developed into an exploration of the human experience as she sang about forgiving yourself for making mistakes, unrequited love, diving headfirst into the unknown, and a German exchange student who never knew how she felt. We’ve all been there.
Her impromptu set developed into an exploration of the human experience.
Her voice was musky, yet powerful and clean enough to stand assuredly amongst the minimal instrumentation. In under an hour, Rowena had proven herself a natural story teller, giving the audience strong eye contact and watching them stare back in awe.
Ben Abraham appeared at the back of the room to watch Rowena’s last few songs. Five minutes later he was on stage, launching into his first song without a word. As he launched into ‘Sirens’, Ben drew everyone in with the ruminating hymn-like aura of the album’s title track. Sirens was short, sweet, and incredibly atmospheric in the small room.
The only thing more loveable than Ben’s relatable lyrics and impressive musical skill was his sense of humour.
The only thing more loveable than Ben’s relatable lyrics and impressive musical skill was his sense of humour. “If you like listening to a guy from Melbourne sing about feelings, you’re in the right place,” he quipped. “There’s going to be a lot of hugging opportunities, so you might like to get friendly with the person next to you.”
The album’s second track Time was incredibly cinematic, almost like the soundtrack to a Nicholas Sparks romantic drama. The song provided a perfect opportunity allowing Ben to show off his adaptive skill by matching his voice to the volume and timbre of the instrumental. The couples in the audience huddled together as he sang as if the songs were written about them.
Tearjerkers Baby I Belong To You and You And Me were amongst the crowd favourites for the night, as most of the audience had already committed the lyrics to memory.
Despite the overflowing emotion in his music, Ben’s vocals never faltered, and in the silent room it was hardly surprising that he found the microphone almost entirely unnecessary. Tearjerkers Baby I Belong To You and You And Me were amongst the crowd favourites for the night, as most of the audience had already committed the lyrics to memory.
“Get your feelings ready,” Ben warned before Collide, a lyrically intense ballad built on bare piano chords. Once again, he managed the contrast between delicacy and raw emotion perfectly. After some obligatory audience participation in his lullaby number Will You Come Home, Ben brought Rowena back to the stage to sing Sarah Bareilles’ part in the duet This Is On Me. She nailed Sarah’s stratospheric harmony parts and the pair melded beautifully together.
Songbird was everything the audience could have hoped for: full of passion, energy, warmth, honesty, and pure talent.
Getting down to the business end of the evening, Ben pulled out the big guns with his instantly lovable single Speak. It’s one thing to hear this song on the album, but hearing it live is truly an experience. The slow, steady guitar notes in the opening lines filled the room with a confusing combination of anticipation and calmness, building on the intimacy in the room with silent gaps. Eventually – unfortunately – it was over, but no one was complaining as Ben followed it up with an amazing rendition of Rihanna’s Stay, yet again brandishing his impressive fingerpicking skills.
Of course, the only way to finish a great show is with an unforgettable final number, and Songbird was everything the audience could have hoped for: full of passion, energy, warmth, honesty, and pure talent. Like Speak, Songbird came to life in a live setting. This was more than your run-of-the-mill indie-pop song: the emotional performance and all-in attitude left an unforgettable impression on the audience, who sat in silence until the very end before bursting into raucous applause.
“You don’t have to listen to [the album], I just want the money. I’m selling everything I own if you want it.”
Ben Abraham is an honest musician, a talented artist, and most importantly, a genuine person. He has known hardships and struggles (often in the form of parking fines), and still manages to maintain a pretty wicked sense of humour. He finished the show with a few sentimental final words: “You don’t have to listen to [the album], I just want the money. I’m selling everything I own if you want it.”
Ben is a true talent in a tough industry, at an even tougher time in history, and if anyone deserves to sound their siren for an audience, it’s him.