Amy Halpin – Ruby Boots – Leadbelly Newtown – 5 May-12
Picture: Amy Halpin

Review: Ruby Boots at Leadbelly, Sydney, 5 May 2018

It’s doubtful any of the patrons at Newtown’s Leadbelly expected such an emotional night to unfurl before them when Ruby Boots performed on Saturday night. Those expecting her modern country-blues blend got so much more as the night moved through emotional and touching moments.

Pan-Pacific Grand Prix opened up the night with laid back and hazy slacker rock, their whole sound tinged with melancholia and warm fuzz. The four-piece is essentially the project of multi-instrumentalist and frontman Ross James Tipper, and his lyrics – wrapped in a depressed irony and desperation – gave the performance a distinct weight.

Their performance reached a particularly sombre note when only Tipper took the stage with a guitar and performed a song about “not being able to get off the couch for six months”, which ended in his sister jumping up on stage and giving him a lasting emotive hug. The audience was clearly touched and humbled to see such raw emotion.

After finishing on an expansive and swirling number that brought their set to an intense climax, the crowd had about half an hour to collect themselves for Ruby Boots, real name Bex Chilcott. Her set had a similar laid back style, but with a distinct country drawl and instrumentation closer to that of blues rock.

Many of her songs contained subtle elements of other genres; the groovy base line of ‘Baby Pull Over’, the fuzz rock sounds of ‘It’s So Cruel’, but all had a through-line of country sensibility and tone in her vocals. In doing so she managed to avoid some of the cheese and cringe that country music can often fall prey to, but maintain a strong link to the genre.

The set was typical of standard country music until a third of the way through, when the band retreated and left Chilcott on stage by herself. “I’m going to bring things down a little, before we rock out at the end,” she said.

Introducing the next song ‘I Am a Woman’, Chilcott explained it was a response to Donald Trump’s infamous ‘grab her by the pussy’ moment – how vulnerable and helpless she felt, and how millions of women likely felt the same way.

“Rather than write a fuck you song, I wanted to write a song about how awesome women are,” she declared.

Her voice drew everyone to a silence, as she mesmerised her audience with pure passion and poise, belting out a haunting dedication to the awesomeness of womanhood.

The band returned to the stage and, as promised, stepped things up and brought things to a fiery close with the brooding ‘Believe in Heaven’, a six-minute blues drawl that intensified exponentially to a searing solo outro, a drastic departure from the sounds she opened the night with, and showed how broad Chilcott’s catalogue actually is.

Leaving the audience cheering and yelling for more, she submitted for one more song; a beautiful duet with a friend to come down to. It was a soulful reprieve to round out the evening with, to softly land an audience after a night of sorrow, happiness, melancholy and cheerful moments all mixed together.

The whole show was humbling for a variety of reasons – Chilcott’s ability to connect with the audience, the humility in her lyrics and sound, and the intimate and intense atmosphere she was able to manipulate. She was able to go places a country gig could never go, and everyone in the audience was clearly thankful to have witnessed it.

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