The Waifs at Fremantle Arts Centre (file photo). Picture: Sara Hannagan

Review: The Waifs at Fremantle Arts Centre, 9 March 2017


The lush grounds of the Fremantle Arts Centre were the ideal setting for a chilled night of pleasant folk tones from beloved WA folk outfit the Waifs. The evening was nothing short of a divine experience, everything clicking into place in Fremantle’s cultural epicentre. The outdoor setting allowed the vibrant acoustics to shine, voices carried to the wind like a messenger pigeon.

Boisterous local talent Toby Beard sported swell dreadlocks and a fiery persona to boot. Artful chord domineering was complemented by her powerful, edgy vocals that could go from benign to savage in an instant. A surprising addition was her performance of C’est L’amour, a French number that featured lustful synthesiser tones projecting the visage of an accordion. Here, Beard’s impressive pipes were on full display, time seemingly to stand still as she held a rousing note. Beard was the perfect prelude to The Waifs; her personable and happy-go-lucky personality perfectly in tune with her ballsy, deeply cutting and engaging repertoire.

The majority of the crowd had been keeping to themselves on their solitary picnic rugs before the Waifs hit the stage. When the group arrived, the audience surged forth to greet them, merging into a multi-armed body that moved as one; praising and applauding their musical overlords.

Although only featuring two blood relations (sisters Vikki Thorn and Donna Simpson), the quintet felt very much like a family unit. I guess that’s what you get when you’ve been around for 25 years (Thorn joked that ‘youngest’ member of 17 years, bassist Ben Franz, lacked car seat privileges).

Kicking things off with crowd favourite London Still, you’d be forgiven for thinking the night would be dominated by a cloying melancholic air. The band, however, managed to produce all manner of foot-stompers and hand-clappers, the highlight being Fisherman’s Daughter – a warming tale of the sisters’ humble Albany beginnings. Thorn’s harmonica playing added a country flair to guitarist Josh Cunningham’s stylish fingerpicking. The siblings would often approach him in an act of well-natured duelling, showcasing their familial bond to the baying crowd.  It was in these moments that the audience really got involved, bopping and swaying in time to the music.

Pre-encore finale Crazy Train was a fitting end to the band’s spectacle; a cacophony of double bass, harmonica, blazing drums and relentless guitar. This bombastic finish was followed up by two encores, the last of which was unforgettable.

The aptly-named Feeling Sentimental was a low-key way to wrap up proceedings; the sisters crooning into a shared microphone accompanied by Cunningham’s tender banjo playing. Ending on this light-hearted note gave the audience much to reflect on, with many fans having followed the band since their humble beginnings more than two decades ago.

As the five bandmates gathered to bid the crowd farewell, it was clear that time is yet to break the folky spell of The Waifs.

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