The Jezabels @ The Hopetoun Hotel, Sydney (28/02/09)

Newtown indie quartet The Jezabels have been touted as The Next Big Thing for a few years now. Originally from Byron Bay, band founders Haley M and Heather S met fellow members Nik K and Sam L through chance encounters during their studies at Sydney Uni. In their relatively short lifespan, the unassuming four-piece have supported acts ranging from Canadian duo Tegan & Sara to fellow Sydneysiders Van She and played festivals including Big Day Out and Playground Weekender. Saturday night saw The Jezabels take the limelight as they headlined the Hopetoun Hotel to launch their debut EP The Man Is Dead.

After finding a park in the impossibly crowded streets of Surry Hills, I made my way up Bourke Street towards the Hopetoun Hotel. Clearly audible from the street, the pulsating beats of Papa VS Pretty engulfed me as I pushed through the well-worn doors. Lead singer Thomas Rawle is an excitement machine. Not for the first time, the youngster wowed me with his incredible voice and lavish guitar solos. It was not surprising to hear rumours mid-week of the band’s imminent signing with a major record label. Good luck to them.

The crowd waited restlessly, shoulder-to-shoulder in the sweaty confines of the Hopetoun – a fitting way to end a long hot summer. Humble in their approach, The Jezabels took to the stage with a shy delicacy. Wearing a plain silk blouse and a high-waisted skirt, frontwoman Haley M immediately captured the crowd’s attention. She possesses a fragile yet powerful beauty in both her stage presence and vocal range. It is no wonder that The Jezabels have been causing quite a stir. The appropriately named Magic kicked off proceedings to the delight of those perspiring in front.

The band’s sound mixes classic pop and disco with an expansive, emotionally sophisticated take on indie rock. Their bass-less arrangement is comprised of Heather’s Conservatorium-trained piano playing, Sam’s sensitive rhythm guitar, anchored by Nik’s nuanced, explosive drumming and sealed with Haley’s incredible presence and unlikely voice.

A standout on their EP, Be A Star did not disappoint in the live setting. Starting with an appreciably murky guitar line before piling on Haley’s sultry vocals, the crowd moves to the narrative of one “who was never meant to be a star”. Other tracks off The Man Is Dead – including Unmarked Helicopter, Old Little Girls, and the downbeat Electric Lover – received a rousing response. However, shiny pop song Disco Biscuit Love garnered the most attention. With thumping drums and soaring, operatic vocals, many in the crowd do their best to sing along. With its themes of dislocation, drug-abuse, gender politics and romantic wreckage, the song clearly connects with its young audience – a clear strength of The Jezabels.

Throughout the set it became clear Haley was struggling with the stifling heat inside the Hopetoun. Whilst it did not affect her performance, she constantly dropped to the back of the stage during and after each song, clutching at a frosty glass. She voiced her concern, saying, “I hope you’re all drinking plenty of water.”

As the band readied to play their last song the crowd fell eerily silent. It was one of the best crowds a band could ask for – completely respectful of the musicianship, whilst being more than willing to have fun. The epic Noah’s Ark fittingly ended the night. It is a song that hints of things to come.