Mary-Ellen Lane – GrettaRay_TheCorner17
Picture: Mary-Ellen Lane

Review: Gretta Ray at the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 16 August 2018

Just two years ago, Gretta Ray was a high school kid hoping to make it big. Now, with tours, festivals and a new EP under her belt, she’s sold out the Corner Hotel on the first night of her national Here and Now tour. Taking the stage after strong support from Nancie Schipper and Al Parkinson, Ray’s set – which belied her 20 years – featured absorbing storytelling and expert control in equal measure, all powered by a nervous yet infectious energy.

Things kicked off with ‘When We’re in Fitzroy’ off Here and Now, the new EP. “Deep in uncharted waters,” sang Ray on the opening line and given the crowd’s reception, she’s clearly learnt to swim. From there she launched into 2017’s ‘Towers’, before taking a chance to address the crowd. Her words were interrupted by cries of “You’re killing it,” from the faithful, then ‘Unwind’ upped the room’s energy. The song was recorded a couple of years ago as the follow-up to her breakout single, ‘Drive’ which won Triple J’s Unearthed High competition. “I never would’ve guessed you guys would be having a party to it now,” she laughed. “You smashed it, Gretta,” came a reply from the back.

After being fortunate enough to transition from high school into making music, Ray has recently spent time doing the things she said she’d do before any of this seemed possible, including travelling to Europe. As she introduced ‘Everything and More’, a new song resulting from those adventures with a couple of girlfriends, a shout came from the side of the crowd – “Oh my god, that’s me!” It’s a nice reminder that behind Ray’s mesmerising voice and award-winning song writing, she’s still a young woman making sense of the world with her friends. She’d played the song just once before, and though she occasionally lost her voice while navigating the turns of phrase and key changes, it was quintessential Ray.

Ray’s set – which belied her 20 years – featured absorbing storytelling and expert control in equal measure, all powered by a nervous yet infectious energy.

Her next song, ‘Radio Silence’, was introduced as “the most vulnerable song I’ve ever written”. It tells a story, she told the crowd, and from the final line – “I’ll put all my money on time,” – she transitioned into ‘Time’, the second part of the story. These two tracks highlighted the playful vocals and wordplay that has become Ray’s trademark, but also emphasised her growing maturity that comes from, well, living life. On the one hand, it makes you want to write a strongly-worded letter to whoever upset her, and on the other, you kind of want to thank them for inspiring songs like these.

Ray was ably backed by her long-term band, and special mention must go to guitarist Connor for his admirable attempts to chat with the crowd while Ray prepared. “Has anyone been to Adelaide?” he asked, “Is it any good? We’re going there tomorrow.” Better yet was his anecdote about the Japanese they had for dinner, the best $10 Japanese he’d ever had, which Ray labelled “embarrassing” – the story, not the food.

The show was always going to end with ‘Drive’, which took out the Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition and reached #27 on the Hottest 100 in 2016, though driving hardly reflects the pace of her trajectory since. “One more song,” came the call, and Ray and the band came back for a rendition of ‘Unexpected Feeling’ which, funnily enough, left the audience feeling as expected – like they’d witnessed the evolution of one of Australia’s most promising singer-songwriters.

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