A warm public holiday’s eve saw Melbourne emo appreciators find their way to ACDC Lane and the crushed velvet surrounds of Cherry Bar. I’ve come to appreciate the rustic cosiness of Cherry Bar, mostly because of the connective experiences I’ve had there. On this Monday night we were there to see Little Brother; the solo project of Trophy Eyes‘ vocalist/frontman John Floreani. Little Brother fans are not handed music on a platter. With one single only on Spotify (“Cleveland, OH” (2016)) and a single EP (Terrace, released in 2014), it says a lot about the specialness of this music if John/Little Brother can still fill a venue (albeit intimate) in 2018.
Before we could see Little Brother in action, we had Amy Pollock to open the night. With beams of light bouncing off the Cherry Bar’s disco ball and acoustic strumming filling the space, it was a relatively instant vibe that I could describe only as ‘gorgy’, as Amy shared her music with a velvety voice and closed eyes immersion. She shared her experience was mostly as a busker, and that she was not used to actually being focused upon by a crowd.
Though I’d not seen or heard of Amy nor her music before this moment, it was very easy to get drawn into her world created by repeated beckonings in her dusky voice and gentle rippling waves of acoustic guitar fingerings. Lyrically I loved the concept she was sharing, of leaning into the hands of fictional worlds to rescue oneself from reality (“I’m scared of being awake”). As well as seeming like a formidable duo of herself and guitar, there was something so endearingly cute when beautiful creations were coming from someone who was sharing irrelevant, yet interesting banter between songs.
Though I’d recently been treated to a stunning Sleep Token version of the same song, Amy’s cover of “Hey Ya” was a joy; flowing and dusky, tumbling together with beautiful high peaks, and rapid neutral moments. Amy was a really fitting opener for the evening with her humble yet warm stage presence and absolutely zero sense of ‘putting on a show’. (It was a pleasure to hang out with you and your guitar, Amy.)
It wasn’t hard at all to see the imposing stature of John Floreani making his way through the crowd to the Cherry Bar stage, armed with a guitar. The hype rippling through the room with Little Brother’s set starting was very real, inspiring some more inebriated/confident punters to want to assert their testosterone-fueled dominance. It was only when they were threatened (good heartedly, yet firmly) to be ejected, and then ignored, that they simmered down.
From the outset it was clear that this set was also going to be a kind of casual let’s-hang-out experience, and John strummed his guitar while telling stories about heartaching disappointment at Carl’s Jr.’s food, as well as sharing that there were new songs coming. Saying “This room is a really good version of twitter”, John expressed he could throw out thoughts and commentary and not have it misunderstood, that it was just “all friends”.
Beginning musically, John played “Pathetic”, after sharing the story behind the song which involved a moment of connection with a neighbour’s dog. It was a ‘he stared into my soul’ moment that was sung tenderly and sweetly, despite some still-restless punters. From there John asked for us to ‘join in like karaoke’ as he played “A Distance”. Join in we did, with the room blooming into a massive singalong, as John emotively shared his voice, as if threatening to cry at any moment.
[Returning to play the Terrace EP today via Bandcamp as I write this, it’s clear how significantly John’s voice has developed since its release, sharing strong and flawless renditions of these songs with us in Cherry Bar.]
It is kind of a surreal moment to have a musician be so open about their own journey when they can observe a past version of themselves (presented in a song) and state unapologetically his ‘lack of heart at the time’ and emotional shortcomings. It was a beautiful mix of humour and lightheartedness as well as emotional rawness, asking the crowd to sing the guitar part of “Moving Day” and smiling to the result, then closing eyes and losing himself to it, before blowing out into red-faced aggression.
“I don’t actually know how to tune a guitar,” John shared between songs, after playfully strumming the familiar melody of George Michael’s “Faith” and then tuning his guitar. “I just did that so you guys think I’m a gen-u-ine musician”.
Every song shared came with a story. I don’t know about anyone else, but this added a context and a depth to what we were hearing, adding even more emotional weight to the music itself. It was a physical thump, courtesy of the feelings, when he shared “Bongs” (a song which doesn’t have a permanent name). Its inspiration comes from the instinct to share something beautiful with someone, before realising they’re not around anymore, or just not in your life. Lines like “I’m always drowning in my head” add even more relatable weight to dark night ocean-watching reflection and the painful realisation of absence.
This was emotionally worsened/improved by the honest and real raw regret of “Shotgun”, where John again shared his ability to bleed emotion like the turning of a faucet; from subtle and heartfelt through to tear-inspiring masses of emotion that blasts out like a roar. This stuff stays with you, and peers into your own regrets and lost opportunities.
“Please tell me I’m doing the right thing”
As the set was coming to a close, Cherry Bar surrendered to this experience and the restless punters seemed fully soothed, or maybe just overtaken by the passionate singing of this room full of voices. We were all fully embracing this heart-fire and humble honesty, and it seemed to be mutual, with John saying that he had needed this: “I really needed a room of people who understand me.” He shared that the specialness of the night had made his month.
He pointed out that his good friend, and also girlfriend Bianca were there, and shared about life being good for him and gratitude for having a house and a couch and a fridge with food in it. He hoped life was good for all of us too. This lead into a beautiful rendition of Bruce Springsteen‘s “I’m On Fire” which had the room spellbound and quietly watching.
Saying that encores are “fucking lame”, John ended with “Cleveland, OH”. A perfect end to the night, the song sparked singing along to the extreme, and the incredible version seemed to carry even more raw intensity than the original. I left way more impacted and inspired that I expected I’d be, and very keen for more Little Brother music and moments.
[Photos by Albert Lamontagne]