I’m nervous, forming these words. Sarah Blasko’s music – particularly her gorgeous five-star 2018 album Depth Of Field – has helped me through some stressful times. I was explaining last night that I must have listened to it a hundred times, the soundtrack to keeping tedium away, to hold back tears, to coping with vulnerability, loneliness, awkward silences. A hundred might be an exaggeration, but 50 is not. The fellow writing the review in The Guardian put it far better than I ever could:
A phantom limb: this is what Depth of Field feels to me right now. Songs like the swirling ‘Heaven Sent’ and beckoning intimacy of ‘Read My Mind’ race around my head like a real friend, or a forbidden lover. I have carried this album almost everywhere with me for weeks now. Whether it is playing through my headphones or not, Blasko’s cajoling, sensational voice soundtracks the inner sadness and mundane reality of the 10.09 train to Guildford. Another half-hour delay? Another chance to listen to Blasko.
I believe the paper may have edited out the part where he claimed Blasko was awarded an ARIA (the Australian equivalent of the Brits) on the back of his review of this elusive, awkward Sydney icon’s previous album.
Gorgeous space, a chapel built in 1820 with a ceiling way up there and shafts of light. The chapel demands attention: not that this stricture is required from Blasko’s devout. Applause lasts an extra 30, 50 seconds for each song – almost uncomfortably so, bearing in mind the spellbound stillness that takes place during the glacial, awkward, beautiful, stripped-back, delicate, slightly melodramatic, haunting, teasing songs Blasko is giving us. Just her and a piano. Just her and a guitar. Just her and a microphone. Just her and a heartbeat.
I digress. Shortly after I moved to Brisbane in 2008, I formed a concept band with a couple of future Sex Drugs Rock N’ Roll teachers – The Thin Kids. We were wonderful, frankly. Supported several name bands (The Cribs, Kate Nash, The Deadnotes), toured Australia to bemusement from Australia’s notoriously prickly music press and released two split singles with La Nash. Our first album back in those heady days of 2008 was to be called The Song of Sarah Blasko Performed the Way She Always Intended Them to be Performed. Sadly, it was never to be; but the thought of pitiful me tackling the songs of An Artist Of Such Grandeur kept me awake at night laughing and trembling in equal proportions.
Gorgeous space. Gorgeous voice, too. Here, have a taste.
She performs this song tonight, just her and a piano and a phantom heartbeat, spilling magic across the awkward silences and empty plains. She sings this song, and the fatigue-destroying ‘A Shot’ – betrayal built into the start of every relationship because you know that deep down you’re not worthy, you’re never worthy of another person’s love – and ‘Leads Me Back’ and ‘Heaven Sent’, and I slip back, thinking of my second-born Daniel (now age 8), the way I needed to talk him down earlier from a high plateau of actualised alienation at his mother’s house and I managed that by having him try and guess my movements during the day. Diversion.
“This next one,” she laughs nervously but nerves assuaged, “is about religion so hopefully I won’t get struck down.” She’s packed out the Sydney Opera House before now: tonight, we number not much more than sixty (but crucially, it is through her choice). I know where I would rather be.
She moves her hands theatrically to express her sweeps of emotion, the haunting. The beauty.
She takes a little self-deprecating mock-bow at the end of each elongated bout of applause.
Tuesday affords us of our first live sighting of the charming Sarah Blasko – slightly overwhelmed by the six musicians thumping out an indie beat on violins and keyboards. Blasko comes as sharp relief to the hordes of sweaty, unkempt, Australian Alpha Males grunging the good grunge all around her, rocking the Julie Andrews look in sensible shoes and high-collared black dress with long vibrant strips of colour down the front. (I wouldn’t normally comment on a lady’s attire: Blasko, however, clearly gives thought to her stage presence.) She dances like you’d imagine a Victorian china doll would, minus the preciousness. Her song ‘Hold On My Heart’ is magical, delirious. The backing on ‘Turning Back’ is one part Dr Who, another part Eleni Mandell. There’s a stand-up bass, the mood is vaguely sea shanty. It’s a little bit early Cardigans (it feels delightfully Mod), a little bit latter-day Björk (Blasko can clearly control her voice)… and is that a slight Irish inflection I hear?
It strikes me that Blasko is so much better now she understands her real strength. Herself.
My notes state that tonight in Brighton, “she transforms”.
That’s it. She transforms.