LIVE REVIEW: Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins @ Red Rattler, Sydney

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Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins
Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville, NSW Australia
20th September, 2018

A sold out Sydney show is a great way to kick off a solo tour for Jen Cloher and as she revealed during her set, this was her first ever solo headline gig. A surprising event given the career Cloher’s established over the last dozen years.

Hollie Fullbrook is better known as the central figure in Tiny Ruins but tonight she was performing solo, still in the hazy midst of jet lag following a European tour. It made for a fascinating set as she played old favourites such as Chainmail Maker, Me At The Museum, You In The Wintergardens and Hurtling Through, alongside her new single How Much, her first on Cloher’s Milk! Records label. Blaming the jet lag she admitted feeling nervous and at one point had a lyrical memory failure but recovered gallantly. It was a chance to see an artist at a transitional point with a new album pending, on a new label, singing songs we’ve never heard, stripped back to their essence.

Jen Cloher fitted into the Marrickville warehouse aesthetic in her green mechanic overalls. She was “at work, playing her block of wood”. It was more than work of course, as evident in the emotion she displayed when introducing songs with stories from her life. There were memories of her Jim Morrison teenage obsession, stealing money from her parents to fuel her Galaga addiction while pretending to be an 11 year old boy called Jon, a beautiful tribute to her mother who that day had been posthumously honoured at Auckland University as part of the Suffrage 125 commemoration and more. The stories were laced with humour and honesty and gave the songs context and added depth. 

With just an acoustic guitar Cloher transformed her more rock-leaning recordings into solo reveries that never lost their spirit and energy. It emphasised her strength as a lyricist, allowing the words to cut through in the acoustic setting, riding her near endless array of sweet and melancholic melodies. Tracks such as Sensory Memory, Kamikaze Origami and Strong Woman from last year’s self-titled album drew cheers from the warm and enthusiastic crowd but we were also treated to some dips into the back catalogue with David Bowie Eyes, Needs, Mother’s Desk and Eden With My Eve. 

Fullbrook returned to the stage for the encore and the pair played a touching version of Save Me From What I Want, a song that Cloher recorded with Mia Dyson and Liz Stringer. It capped off a wonderfull night of music. Songs stripped back to their simple yet detailed beginnings as stories, carried on the strings of acoustic guitars.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher

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This is album number four for Jen Cloher and in keeping with the title and stark artwork, featuring her naked and with guitar, it is her most honest, clear-cut and autobiographical release to date.

So many songwriters cloud their ideas and experiences in metaphors and diversionary tactics but Cloher goes straight for the literal and personal, detailing the trials and tribulations of extended periods apart from her partner (and guitarist) Courtney Barnett, suburban malaise, gay marriage, Dirty Three and the shallowness and strain of the music industry. It amounts to an internal and external state of the nation address, delivered with poetic poise and intellectual observation.

Musically, Cloher and her band frame her songs with a loose indie rock sound that can be locked and direct, with a gentle toughness (Shoegazers), drifting and dreamy (Regional Echo) or noisy and surging like Sleater-Kinney (Strong Woman). That stylistic range creates a flow and dynamism to the album and complements the songs perfectly, ensuring the focus remains on Cloher and her lyrics. That intimacy takes the listener right to that place side-of-stage at a Dirty Three show or a kitchen table with your loved one 17,000 km away.

It’s hard to distil one’s thoughts and emotions into song with such self-awareness, artistic confidence and lack of pretence but Cloher has, quite wonderfully, done just that.

Chris Familton

WATCH: Jen Cloher | Mount Beauty

 Jen Cloher has a new album In Blood Memory due out early in 2013 and here’s the first taste of how it will sound. Mount Beauty shifts from tender folk tinged pop beginnings to a swinging, swagger of a rock song with a bunch of country flavours added into the mix.

You can download a free MP3 of Mount Beauty here

Jen Cloher and Courtney Barnett are doing a split 7″ tour over the next month, see dates below..