Cherry Bar has to be one of my favourite venues. Despite its sticky floors and a few other flaws, seeing a gig at this bar (nestled in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD) offers a unique cosiness and acceptance that I don’t feel at too many other venues. It always hums with a feeling that something great is about to happen. I hope this vibe stays attached to the Cherry Bar name when it moves to a new home soon.
I’ve had some unexpected moments of discovering great musicians at Cherry Bar, and Wednesday night brilliantly offered this in the form of Ruby Gill. Standing on stage unassumingly, Ruby swiftly blew minds and strummed heartstrings with her set. With gorgeously thoughtful lyrics, Ruby shared her dreamy and romanticised lens on life and intimacy, beginning with “Cigarettes”. We roared with applause and cheers in response to this tender tune.
Ruby’s amazing voice soared to unexpected heights of pitch and emotion, leaving delectable crumbs of curiosity toward this angle of life she was revealing. At one point, her hands paused momentarily at the guitar and it was just Ruby’s heart and voice filling Cherry Bar. Riddled with goosebumps, I began to tear up. And I didn’t even know these songs.
Moving between guitar and keyboard on stage, it’s tough to put into words what it was like to watch Ruby in action. She reminded me greatly of Fiona Apple with her expression. Ruby spoke about flawed moments in the life of someone considered to be profound, her confusion in a crumbling relationship, and shared modern day savagery set to piano ballad. Full blown emotional roars showed us just how much Ruby was immersed in her craft, and I have goosebumps again just thinking about it. What an absolute pleasure. (Make sure you watch the fucking openers, people!)
Jimmy Kyle/Chasing Ghosts took to the stage next, very swiftly revealing his passionate heart toward those who walk our planet and endure suffering or discrimination of any kind. Referring to suicide (and its impact upon the world) as “a fucking epidemic”, Jimmy began with “Tips For Drowning Oneself”; it felt like it was as much of a call of “Don’t die” as it was “I don’t want to die. Let’s do this together.”
With more of a country twang to his sound than Ruby, Jimmy’s set was as emotive in its closed-eyes and slow-paced sharing of meaningful tunes. With warm banter and a vibe of nostalgia, Jimmy’s honest approach nodded toward growing up in country towns, and simply and plainly stating the need to let go of shit relationships. Clearly unafraid to touch on dark subject matter (yet also somehow managing to make us laugh at times), Jimmy shared a story about one of his cousins being stabbed and killed. So quiet and attentive were we in the crowd, while Cherry Bar continued on with the noise of espresso martinis being made in their shakers and wafts of incense filtering over us. “There’s a pause, you know, when someone tells you that shit”.
Over the course of this set, I started to understand that these dark and raw stories of Jimmy’s are part of a history that has allowed for him to not only see demons in those around him, but has also allowed for him to face his own demons intimately and gain strength and perspective in the process. It’s as if the cold realities of mortality somehow inspired a hope within him for the living.
Having seen the worst of humanity, Jimmy returned to a truth that he shared with us: “The strongest weapon we have is love, as hippy as that sounds”, urging us to lean into one another, even those we hate. Jimmy finished with a new song that was both graphic in its intensity and also graphic in its forgiveness; an impressive capture of the magnitude of actions that we humans are capable of.
I’m not going to lie, from the first moment of Wish You Were Here beginning, I was already moved. Cherry Bar’s disco ball’s light beams gently bouncing coupled with Jesse Barnett’s very small and soft voice was just something fucking else. Jesse introduced us to Noah Calvin on keys, who he has been friends with since they were 13, saying “He’s my guy”.
Though it was exceptionally odd hearing Jesse sing so softly, fans of Stick To Your Guns will have already recognised a thoughtfulness, a compassion, and a kindness. Instead of roaring in our faces about zero tolerance for bigotry or abuse, we were silently having the pleasure of witnessing Jesse meandering through observations and questions about toxic people. It was heartwarming, as were Jesse’s grateful smiles between songs.
Seeming to be just as big of a fan of Ruby as we now definitely were, there was a sense of shyness about this subdued set. Tender sentiments were relatively whispered, seeming to capture the search for compassion while experiencing struggle in “Hell Inside My Head”.
Jesse shared personal stories about his life, in particular speaking about Montreal and his time living there (and how he “misses it every day”). Hearing him describe how he heard pain in his mother’s voice over the phone as she shared sad news hit hard. This maternal respect is yet another similarity between the two of Jesse’s projects. Listening to “Christmas Creek”, I found myself struck by the vulnerability that must inevitably come in a circumstance without the ability to hide behind screeches of feedback, loud guitars, or screams – just sharing an honest voice while we all stare right at him. “You had to have loved me” trails out and I think we maybe all held our breath at how amazing this was.
Talking then about his “fuckin shitshow of a country” and how the leaders of both the US and Australia seem to have things backwards, Jesse (like Jimmy) reiterates that the important thing is loving each other. Growing up in a military family, Jesse shares a “thank fucking god for that” sentiment at having a mother that was a ‘hippy’. But he also revealed a relatively recent recognition of his dad having grown up through experiences that made him how he is. After finishing performing the new song which includes a “that’s no way to live” lyric, Jesse clarified his stance of it not being okay for people to give all their energy away to others “who sit in thrones”; that it’s important for us to tend to our needs versus give our lives away, even just to get 8 hours sleep. Loving and respecting ourselves as well as each other.
Shouting out to Josh Merriel and his Short Fast Loud program for playing his songs and spending time with him, Jesse turned his attention toward Montreal again. He affectionately describes it as being both the best place he’s ever been and somewhere that’s always cold and miserable. We’re then drawn into the musical experience of not knowing what was next for him in his life, immersed into the bereft feeling of no longer having an anchor or a sense of home.
As the set was coming toward its end, Jesse seemed more relaxed and comfortable, opening up about a ‘weird relationship’ he has with Melbourne and a friend/girlfriend that lives in Victoria. He also shared how much he related to Ruby’s songs about someone who loved their work more than their lover, and the attempt of a lover to fill the shoes of a partner’s mother, sharing that her music “kicked my heart in the balls” with its relatability.
The set ended with a cover of The Goo Goo Dolls‘ “Name”. Nostalgic and sweetly soft, with ethereal tones that wafted and felt allowing, this rendition also came with a standout instrumental moment before the last verse. This entire experience was so wonderfully heartwarming and refreshingly real, giving me a greater appreciation for the bravery of singer songwriters.