Australian indie-folk heartthrob Vance Joy brought his boyish charm, masterful guitar playing and sultry vocals to The Anthem on Tuesday, June 12, as part of a tour celebrating his 2018 album “Nation of Two.” With his humble presence, Joy proved that a simplistic stage and acoustic performance can still create an exciting and memorable concert experience.
Although Washington, D.C.’s newest music hotspot The Anthem, which opened in October 2017, served as a backdrop for celebratory Washington Capitals fans earlier in the day, the arena flooded with eager concertgoers by the time the sun set over the Wharf. Attendees raged from star-struck teenage girls to burly bearded men – a testament to Joy’s widespread appeal and relatable music. The juxtaposed Hollywood glamour and underground club aesthetics of The Anthem provided the perfect complement to the diverse crowd.
Joy’s entrance on stage was devoid of strobe lights, smoke machines or suspense; instead, he delivered a winning smile and an accented “Thank you, D.C.,” before diving into his opening song, “Call If You Need Me,” from his most recent album “Nation of Two.” Above his head were square panels filled with mismatched rectangular tiles, which reflected various colored lights around the venue throughout the night. During “Call If You Need Me,” the indie-folk star opted for a simple white spotlight, mimicking the song’s lyrics “I feel like I’ve been here before / Loved you in the darkness and I loved you in fluorescent light.”
As Joy transitioned into the next song – the popular single “Mess is Mine” from his 2014 album “Dream Your Life Away” – violet light flooded the venue, and neon caricatures appeared suspended below the set’s square reflective panels. Directly in the middle was an intimate portrait of two figures lying together. Surrounding that image were other romantic portraits, such as a man and woman sitting together or taking a walk. The images mirrored the Australian singer’s tender lyrics. As he strummed his guitar, he sang from his heart, recounting a relationship in which two individuals adopt each other’s joy and pain.
Throughout the night, Joy continued to produce one acoustic love song after another. Although he maintained a theme of happiness in love, Joy’s setlist contained songs with contrasting tempos and distinctive guitar melodies. The soft ballad “Alone With Me” off 2018’s “Nation of Two” was sharply followed by the upbeat drum-heavy “Fire and the Flood” off “Dream Your Life Away.” Later, Joy juxtaposed the sentimental childhood story “Little Boy” with the faster, cinematically inspired “Bonnie & Clyde,” both tracks from “Nation of Two.”
Joy’s efforts to be inclusive of all relationship types came through clearly throughout the night, a choice that felt particularly relevant because of the Capital Pride Festival the preceding weekend. Many of his songs lack gender pronouns. Instead, Vance Joy often uses neutral words like “we” and “you” to refer to the subjects of his music. Additionally, a neon pink silhouette glowing above the singer’s head appeared to depict two men together rather than a man and a woman. Whether intentional or not, Vance Joy’s neutrality and colorful lighting created an atmosphere that felt inclusive, loving and judgement-free.
For his ending numbers, the Australian heartthrob kept the tempo upbeat and the mood joyful. He surprised the audience with a fun mashup of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” before launching into “Riptide,” the chart-topping song off his 2013 EP “God Loves You When You’re Dancing.” The coming-of-age love song was followed by “Lay It On Me,” which showcased Joy’s impressive vocal power.
Joy ended the night with “Saturday Sun,” prompting the audience to hop along with his contagious “Ba-ba, ba-ba” repetition. The song’s lyrics about the excitement of a new infatuation jived with the audience members, whose smiles remained plastered on their faces even as they left. With just a couple guitars and exuberant lighting, Vance Joy served as a testament to the powerful performances acoustic musicians can deliver and reminded everyone of the beauty of young romance.