If you’re not from around these parts, you should know that John Floreani has just released his debut album sin. To celebrate, John has announced three intimate shows: London, Melbourne, Los Angeles. Fortunately we live in Melbourne, and photographer Liam Davidson and I were present to take in the experience.
Ruby Gill was the opener for the show. Ever since she played at Cherry Bar as support for the Wish You Were Here show, I’ve been under the Ruby Gill spell. Looking around the Workers Club bandroom, the crowd were at attention with all eyes upon Ruby as she began. Beginning by sharing a story about cooking her boyfriend curry at his house after they’d broken up and the ensuing internal confusion, Ruby’s incredible voice filled the room. Ruby’s songs are wowing in their beautiful honesty.
With softly shared context before beginning, “Cinnamon” was soaring and incredible. I find myself stunned at the fullness of sound coming from this woman and her guitar. With impossibly sweet high notes, lines like “honey I’m home” grew and grew, coming from somewhere deep in Ruby, which worked to unlocked something within me too, even though I’m not sure what, sparking tears.
In comparison to the rowdy shows I’ve been to at the Workers Club before, Ruby’s set was still and quiet enough at times that I could hear the flutter of Liam’s camera shutter, and every instance of the door opening and closing or other noises at the bar were noticed… at least between songs, because while Ruby was singing, I was captivated.
Whether on piano or guitar, Ruby’s storytelling comes in the form of doubt-laden questioning and also bewitching honesty. She’s on stage revealing her insides while still retaining strength of self. Ruby’s songs about her ex boyfriend, with regrettable tattoos and unfortunate facial hair, were brilliantly real. I felt like this “I don’t like you anymore anyway” flavour of honesty – where a pinch of humour comes in sharing her observations of tragic moments – worked very well on John Floreani’s show, as he does similarly with this music.
I’m a big fan of Ruby’s lyrics, such as “there is a universe somewhere inside my head”, and how saying “bless you” to a sneezing crowd member is just as much Ruby Gill’s ‘brand’ as is heart-wrenching and palpable howls. I adore the dark atmospheres created by piano, as well as just how Ruby’s voice on its own can impact so powerfully. “Do I look fucking fine?” Ruby asks, with beautiful honesty that’s shared unashamedly and powerfully. Ever amazing, Ruby’s set ended with whistles, cheers, and loud applause.
John Floreani’s first words on stage were “The sanitary disposal unit in the bathroom has blood all over it.” Before “How you doing?”. It kind of set an tragicomedy tone of ‘anything goes’, which works for John Floreani/Little Brother gigs from what I’ve seen. Laughter is easy from the punters at these casual and playful sessions. Maybe too easy! While wandering slowly around the stage and sharing a song about a sad dog, laughter during the song made John stop and say “You can’t do that!” with a smile on his face.
John Floreani gigs aren’t solely about the music, you see. They’re about the people, the connection, his stories, his life, and they change with the mood. They carry a relaxedness that could easily veer into unplanned chaos… and I don’t think the people present mind either way. John admits that he played only three songs in 30 minutes in London, before beginning to share a life story of sorts.
John shared how he had moved with his family to Mudgee as a kid, and how his ‘wog’ surname had him and his brother stand out amongst the typical Aussie names in this town. This difference led to him being bashed by kids at school, then also having his “ass beat at home“. Copping it on all fronts meant he fought back. Being beaten no matter what he did, John fell into the wrong crowd. Moving to Bathurst, drugs were “cooler than uni”, so he moved back home. He dated a girl he’d known from his younger years, but ‘dating’ was more partying together than knowing each other at all. This was the introduction for John singing “A Distance”, a song about how “girl moves away, boy hates himself”.
Having seen “A Distance” in its rawness, and seeing it shared on stage in the present day, I noticed a distinct difference in the energy and emotion with this song. John no longer crashes down into the ache of this, but shares it as a reflective nod to where he’s been. ‘Maturity’ gets thrown around a lot about music and musicians, but I feel like this is one instance where it fits. Seeming to be on a similar wavelength, John spoke about the Terrace EP, released in 2014, and that listening to it now he can hear how much his singing has improved.
With a nod to the release of sin (on the day of the show), we’re treated to the serious and soft “Before The Devil Knows I’m Dead”. The sheer amount of voices joining in gave me goosebumps, and John commented “You guys sound fucking incredible” mid-song. The singing forces continued into “Chloe”, feeling like the crowd could carry this show on their own. With a vibe of affection and appreciation, it was clear that these songs have left their mark upon those present, and their voices reflect that. It made for a beautiful exchange, and based on John’s facial expressions, he was clearly happy with his several hundred backing singers.
“How ya doing Melbourne?”, asked John. “Woo!”s and cheers and whistles were shared in response. “‘Woo’ isn’t an answer. How ya doing Melbourne?? I guess we can talk later.”
Firstly acknowledging the craziness of the fact that the gig had sold out within a day, John then shared his discovery that someone had referred to him as “Walmart Bruce Springsteen”. When you think Walmart is cool and Bruce is even cooler, what else is there to do but share a cover of “I’m On Fire”? That’s exactly what happened. The cover came with an easy vibe, and felt like a nod toward someone John admires, as well as a demonstration of how he’s clearly honed his singing skills.
John had done an Instagram live stream earlier in the day, answering questions people were putting in the comments. He spoke a little about this, seeming amused and perplexed about the curiosities some people have. It was an interesting insight into the life of being famous (whatever that word even means). For the record – because apparently everyone asks how tall he is – John is 6’6″.
Diving back into songs, “Moving Day” had us merrily vocalise the guitar part that John can’t play, before the life story was continued. Having broken up with the girl that he didn’t really know, John then went on tour with Trophy Eyes for a couple years, which led to him being in Los Angeles. He shared how while there he spotted someone attractive across from him, and said that he fell in love with her instantly. Drunk and high, he had “too much to tell her” and she subsequently rejected him.
They moved in the same circles and because of this he was able to chase her around. Someone in the crowd said it sounded creepy, to which John looked side stage and asked “It wasn’t creepy, was it?”. Continuing the story, John eventually got her to like him before returning home, living with his brother to save money to get back to Texas where she lived, working several jobs. His brother kicked him out of his house, with John saying “I don’t love you anymore” on the spot. This was the last time they spoke and he hasn’t had Christmas with him since.
This is what I’d want people to understand most about John Floreani’s music most of all. They’re very real snapshots of life, as opposed to creative inventions. Even if unresolved, even if catchy and enjoyable. With this heaviness, John shared “Oh Brother”, and its weight of unresolved conflict was palpable. Inviting us to join in with hand-clapping and singing, this lifted the song at its end.
An hour in and immersed in the experience, John sought out his manager Eddie Deal wondering when curfew is and whether he had time for more music. John asks if he can play us a new song that he wrote the day before. Not sure if it would eventually end up as a Trophy Eyes song, or one for his solo music, we are the test audience. It’s a yes from me, appreciating the line “All I wanna be when I grow up is someone you can love” from this song about staying with his lover versus leaving all the time.
“Cleveland, OH” was the big finish for the night. John paused through the song to share his gratitude and love for all of us. As the last chance to join in, loud voices made themselves known! Full hearted, satisfied, moved, we leave. What an incredible night of music!