The Metro Theatre Sydney
Tuesday 10th March, 2020
Her self-penned melancholic ballads will permeate your heart with a single sharp pierce. Refined arrangements imparting deep despair, but did I mention she’s twenty-five years old? The layers to her voice mimic those layers of unwelcome ponderous conflict by which we are all at times entrapped. Decades of pain in but one lingering note, but did I mention she’s twenty-five years old though? Her winning songwriting formula serves up an easily digestible oceanic tidal wave of all too identifiable emotions. Interest peaked, I was keen to see twenty-five year old London based Ms Freya Ridings perform such stirring songs live.
A credible musical artist should be measured primarily by both the message and mood they manage to convey via the powerful medium of music. But please excuse my cynicism, when I suggest that an attempt however to relay such expressiveness successfully when completely exposed upon a live stage, is a whole other game entirely. Regardless, an attempt is always brave, and should be supported always - in my humble opinion.
With that in mind I wondered as to just how affectingly would Ms Ridings present her art at The Metro Theatre Sydney on the evening of Tuesday 10th March 2020, as I continued to stare at the unlit stage facing me, lost in curiosity. Concentration abruptly, but happily broken as the sweet sound of a single cello stroke wafted its way from the stage, gently but surely crushing the collective crowd chatter in a single breath.
As the cellist held our attention, Ms Ridings observed her cue to appear on stage, a friendly nod aimed at her attentive audience. Pretty and poised as a picture she assumed her rightful position at the piano.
As I continued to gaze upon the figure before us as her fingers just skimmed above the keys, I tried to push an involuntary yet all too familiar niggling notion right to the very back of my mind… But it persisted, blaring adamantly - that pretty and poised alone does not an authentic artist make. So I tried and tried again.
Anxiousness vanished, when immediately put at ease as an apparently comfortable, controlled and confident Ms Ridings officially initiated the evening’s introduction, by belting out an energetic rendition of ' Love Is Fire’. A track taken from her self-titled debut studio album released in July of 2019. Enthusiastic response spoke volumes. These fans were no strangers to Ms Ridings’s work. This strong presence of familiarity would remain as the show unfolded.
Ms Ridings endeared herself very early on by affectionately engaging the audience for what would be the first of many times throughout the night. Her manner emanated a genuine grace. Refreshingly humbled by the way in which her very personal music has been widely appreciated but more significantly, understood.
Embodying sheer vulnerability at no point more so than when Ms Ridings divulged that her body of work thus far was born out of painful anguish. Understandably, a theme revisited throughout the performance. However, as a measure of necessary balance, an acutely insightful Ms Ridings also shone a light upon the absolute antidote to such darkness. Doing so, by sharing her wise mantra that rising above the ashes of horrendous heartache to reemerge far stronger than before is vital. Songs echoing such self-empowerment were well received as the night progressed.
Maintaining such transparency, topped by the gesture of referring to her fans as a family she’d not yet met, was incredibly touching and essentially drew the large crowd in even closer.
Silken piano keys once again spilled into the room. Ready to embrace the easily recognizable dramatic ballad ‘You Mean The World To Me’, I stood transfixed as the remainder of the audience. The delicate texture to Ms Ridings’s vocals here really helped lift a heavy introspective piece. Having amassed vast poignancy coupled by an intense understanding for sorrow at such an age again struck a chord. A glaringly mature translation on stage however, even more so.
For during which, we were witness to actual fragility. The intimacy of such a powerful exchange at a live performance is conducive to an undeniably unique and privileged journey travelled between both artist and fan - almost tangible. Its just not the same listening to music digitally streamed at home. And no, I don’t much care if you’ve splurged stupid money on a set of super shiny Steinway speakers. I said it’s just not the same - in my humble opinion.
Ms Ridings at all times appeared very much in sync with her on point four piece band, and together they formed quite the cohesive unit. The crowd that filled The Metro to near capacity stayed engaged, invited to interact throughout. But if I’m being honest, and I am, I more so particularly enjoyed the whimsical banter provided by the delightfully grounded Ms Ridings between comfortably spaced intervals. She utilized these pockets of opportunities wisely, each time unveiling just that little bit more about the literal meaning to previously guarded private thoughts, once jotted in a journal. And each time we felt just that little bit more special. It really did feel warm, although a crisp autumn night.
A little further down the set list and Ms Ridings imparted one of those antidotes to which I referred earlier as she plunged right into declarative ‘Poison’, the very antithesis of ‘You Mean The World To Me’. Here Ms Ridings once again explored the topic of all consuming love, but instead delivered her specifically forthright lyrics as in almost a breathless chant. Hauntingly pronounced. Impactful. Exampling such diversity of style execution did draw particular attention. “.. I need your love like vampires crave blood...”, the earnest yet direct nature in tone did attest to her abundantly clear urgency. Opposed to other more timid expressions.
Occurrence of such creative edginess, combined with the broad disparity between this song and others typifying a more impassioned softer balladry, did guarantee the avoidance of a one-dimensional performance.
Her finesse as a lyricist had already solidified a common connectivity with fans prior to this night, given the universally relatable songs. The live show itself however, further illuminated Ms Ridings’s penchant for the piano as well as her guitar prowess, as was demonstrated when she sang ‘Unconditional’, such a sweet surprise.
The relevance of comprehending one’s own individual voice type is paramount as a performer. Ms Ridings exercised this awareness expertly, accomplishing consistently pleasing pitch whilst doing so, and ensuring a similar outcome when exploring both her higher and lower register.
The radio friendly up-tempo ‘Castles’ prompted a simultaneous sing a long. Live arrangements of more high-energy amplified tracks such as ‘Ultraviolet’ and ‘Waking Up’, secured an equally excitable vibe.
Alone or accompanied on stage, Ms Ridings maintained the disposition of a far more experienced performer beyond her years, and indeed right to the very end when she would reappear on stage to smash that essential encore. Ms Ridings chose to first formally introduce her band members for whom she voiced immense gratitude, before nearing the night’s final applause.
At once the same rush surged directly through the whole of The Metro at the very first unmistakable beats to the Florence And The Machine-esque channeled ‘Holy Water’. Ms Ridings ensured an exceptional version to end the evening ever powerfully, and the band in synchronicity seized the opportunity to elevate the grand finale worthy crescendo. It was a real banger, real fast and real loud – just the way I really like it.
Pretty and poised alone does not an authentic artist make. Professional, prepared, polished, poetic, poignant, and possessing the power to perform does however an authentic artist make. At least for this audience on this night, such a truth could not have resounded more deafeningly.
I look forward to Ms Ridings communicating her innermost reflections through music as she continues to evolve. How diversely will this dynamic translate during a future live performance? We’ll have a proper chat over a nice cup of English Breakfast tea right after the show. Regardless, the attempt will still be brave - in my humble opinion.
Mary Di Matteo