The sweet sounds of Laura Jean welcome us into the tightly mingling crowd (few of whom could be under 25) of comfortably dressed Brunswickians who warmly receive her lovely tunes. Ms. Jean and her ensemble closely resemble, to both the ear and eye, a Fairport Convention offshoot circa 1970; clarinet, viola, acoustic guitar, bass and percussion. Her songs more than rise to this comparison too, It's Supposed To Be Summer, Eve and the closing near-masterpiece Mikhail all support the hype in The Age claiming she is this year's rising star. The woodwind and string arrangements support and accentuate her often fantastical stories well and her voice rides the twists and turns of the songs in an unpretentiously homespun way. Though there may be dozens of women occupying similar sounds in this city, Laura Jean is staking her place, and the forthcoming Edenland album (some of which features tonight) should cement that.
Into a reception so warm as to send fire from applauding hands, Darren Hanlon strides upon the stage in coat and scarf, and instantly reassures people it was worth venturing out on this cold weeknight. "Cold enough for you? I'm from Queensland, it's like coming from Tatanooie to play a gig on the planet Hoth." After an engaging Cheat The Future it's back to a banjo for Pinball Millionaire and Falling Aeroplanes before the band (Portland, Oregon's Cory Gray on keys, Rolling Stone editor Simon Wooldrich on bass and 'vixen of the beat' Bree Van Reyk). Like a cleverer, more Australian, less pretentious, more genuine, funnier, sweeter, more talented and likable version of Ben Lee, Hanlon regales us with highly hilarious stories about pinball and over-zealous bar owners, the various band members and his good self interspersed with songs that a large portion of the crowd know word for word.
Mostly playing songs from Fingertips and Mountaintops his recent foray to a West Australian monastery has seen him give birth to tonight's highlight, a new song called Buy Me Presents. Other highlights are the immortal I Wish I Was Beautiful For You, The People Who Wave At Trains, Hold On and rollicking versions of Happiness Is Just A Chemical, Couch Surfing and his increasingly famous, if brief, cover of (Together In) Electric Dreams, which surely brings out a side to the song few new existed. Under much duress from the band, a few vocal punters elicit a Punk's Not Dead and there is not a frown to be found. It's surely only time till both tonight's performers break to the next level of national recognition.