Josh Pyke and WASO
Josh Pyke performs with WASO at the Perth Concert Hall. Picture: Emma Van Dordrecht

Review: Josh Pyke with WASO, Perth Concert Hall, 24 July 2015

Intimately familiar and miraculously new.

You don’t often hear the same song played twice at a gig, but that’s exactly what happened when singer-songwriter Josh Pyke teamed up with the WA Symphony Orchestra on Friday night.

Those who filled the Perth Concert Hall were treated to not one, but two performances of 2005 single Middle of the Hill by a smartly dressed Pyke and co; one in the set and one as an encore.

Seems odd – why not jam out something new and spontaneous for the encore?

When you consider that each song in the set was painstakingly arranged for more than 50 instruments by 10 different composers, then diligently rehearsed before blossoming into its new life as an orchestral piece, you start to get the picture. Spontaneity and orchestras don’t go so well together, so you can’t blame Pyke for sticking to the script.

Opener Memories and Dust, the title track from Pyke’s debut album, was simultaneously sprightly and deliciously heavy with the weight and warmth of woodwind and strings.

Led by WASO’s entertainingly animated Assistant Conductor Christopher Dragon, the musicians provided the ebb and flow, while Pyke’s vocals did the rest.

Singing along with a guitar is one thing, but staying in tune and in time with an orchestra is quite another, and Pyke did so admirably. His vocal range was showcased on Love Lies, from 2012’s The Beginning and the End of Everything, with extra “oohs” and “ahs” echoing the rise and fall of the orchestra.

Picture: Emma Van Dordrecht

Picture: Emma Van Dordrecht

The Lighthouse Song lent itself beautifully to the orchestral arrangement, a soaring crescendo giving way to Pyke’s cheeky lyrics: “And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind / I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those fuckers in”.

For a guy who doesn’t read or write music, his songs sure translate well into orchestral arrangements. In Pyke’s own words, the songs presented were “both intimately familiar and miraculously new”.

Pyke, whose fifth album But For All These Shrinking Hearts is to be released this week, was the first to admit the whole scenario was unfamiliar.

“When I first started playing music, it definitely wasn’t on my list of goals to play with fucking WASO,” he laughed.

“It’s a real honour to be here.”

At times, Pyke seemed right at home, and at others he seemed genuinely humbled and endearingly unsure of the formalities that come with fronting a classical performance – including an interval, which Pyke announced as the “encore”.

“This is as naked as I’ve ever felt,” he quipped as he gingerly put down his guitar to sing Order Has Abandoned Us backed only by the orchestra.

Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth’s arrangement of Leeward Side was playful and percussive, while Pyke’s signature harmonica was just discernible among the tapestry of treble instruments.

As the flutes and violins rose and fell on Something in the Water, Pyke’s voice did so with equal precision, proving to any doubters he deserved his spot on the symphony circuit.

As classical performances go, there was plenty of bowing and handshaking to signal the show’s end and Pyke didn’t muck around, hopping back onstage for Middle of the Hill Mach 2. As he recounted, the song is about how it’s easy not to pay attention to the good things in our lives while we have them.

“Tonight is one of those good things and I’m definitely paying attention,” he said.

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