Although performing on a UK tour just days before the release of his debut album Telluric, for 25-year-old Matt Corby tonight is the culmination of a long musical odyssey that started when he finished second on Australian Idol in 2007 (don’t stop reading – a lot can change in nine years). After accidentally going to the O2 academy and not the O2 institute (their musical monopoly confuses even Apple maps) I end up in a crowd that seems to reflect all parts of this journey: there are plenty of teenage girls in groups or with indifferent boyfriends, but also a fair few post-adolescent members clearly drawn by the more sultry, gospel-tinged rock Corby has teased in the run up to Telluric’s release.
Indeed it’s the reconciliation of these two worlds that proves hardest for Corby, and often he succeeds only in engaging one section of the crowd at any one time, distancing himself from much audience engagement. The set opens with the first track released from Telluric, ‘Knife Edge’, a slow, groove-based number backed by a hip-hop drum break which dissolves into a spacious, watery chorus. It’s a signpost of Corby’s undeniable growing musical maturity – and that he’s clearly been partnered with a producer who knows what they’re doing. The vibe continues with a sweet wash of 70’s nostalgia ‘Sooth Lady Wine’ and the Jeff Buckley-esque ‘Good To Be Alone’, songs that perfectly showcase Corby’s budding versatility.
“Indeed it’s the reconciliation of these two worlds that proves hardest for Corby, and often he succeeds only in engaging one section of the crowd at any one time”
That said, older efforts such as ‘Brother’ and ‘Resolution’ – while being better known and instantly prompting the younger attendees to grab their partners for a quick snog (perhaps imagining Corby’s lips despite them being audibly otherwise engaged) – now stick out as being simplistic and nondescript. Here, instead of using the lyrical prowess Corby exploits on newer material (“Blame it on your rage and sombre nature/If the violent conversation gets the best of you” he lulls on ‘Monday’), he often resorts to derivative vocalisations, “ooos” and “wo-oahs” which ring a little hollow, recalling the spectral host of indie/folk-lite acts you’ve unconsciously soaked up shopping in H&M.
Awkward musical evolutions aside, the centrepiece of the show is truly Corby’s impeccable pipes which seem to perfectly encapsulate everything a good ‘rock’ voice should be. At its most vulnerable, each tremulous note seems to hang from a cliff face, but when Corby really lets rip with soulful howls (aided by his Jesus-like mane), he sounds like he’s booming down from Mount Sinai. He is, to put it bluntly, one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard live, marrying the technical brilliance of a church choir lead with a range of husky evocative tones so well on his closing cover of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ that a few teens actually put down Snapchat to enjoy the powerful, sonic present (well, not really, but a guy can dream).
“…marrying the technical brilliance of a church choir lead with a range of husky evocative tones”
Nothing about being a student journalist qualifies you to predict the future, but it’s certainly hard not to see big things for Corby who already looks, and is definitely starting to sound like the kind of talent that could blow up big time on the world stage. It’s an exciting prospect to see him perform again a few years down the line once he’s released a few more solid albums, distanced himself from slightly questionable beginnings, and refined his showmanship a little – at least I can say, in true hipster fashion, I saw him at the start.