Every once in a while I'll watch a band live who are quite clearly on the cusp of international stardom. Last night's Camden Barfly gig from Australian indie-pop sextet Sheppard was a fine example of this. The Australian band, which is comprised of siblings George, Amy and Emma Sheppard as well as Jay Bovino, Dean Gordon and Michael Butler, have already taken Australia by storm with their cheery brand of folky pop, and it's fair to say I haven't seen a happier and more down to earth band perform live for a long time.
The set, their first sell out headline show in the UK, comprised of 12 songs including the majority of debut album Bombs Away, although sadly not the gorgeous Lingering, one of my favourites from the album. Hold My Tongue, a track from last year's Sheppard EP, and due to appear on the UK deluxe edition of the album scheduled for release in October, opened the show. A typical example of the jaunty strummers that the band are perhaps best known for, it was a confident singalong that could have been straight out of a 90s surf movie.
The delightful tropical pop of Smile, with the fantastic green-haired Amy Sheppard on lead vocals, continued this theme, and current single Something's Missing was up third. A gorgeous mid-tempo song with effective vocals, strong verses and a memorable chorus, it's hard to understand why this song failed to light up the charts in Australia when it was released a couple of months ago. Perhaps too slow for fans of Geronimo? These People was up next, not perhaps an album highlight but decent nonetheless.
The first song I ever heard from the band was Let Me Down Easy, early last year. I stumbled across it on their Soundcloud page and promptly bought the parent EP. Simply one of the most infectious songs of the last few years, it's the sort of song that McFly might have released at the peak of their career. To the band's delight, a substantial amount of the crowd seemed to know the song and were happily singing along to every word.
Another Amy-led album track, the more sultry pop of This Electric Feeling, was up next and preceded a trio of strong highlights for me that kicked off with Find Someone, which George Sheppard said that the band don't often play live due to the presence of the 'F' word in the chorus. An angsty song, it made for a great rocky performance from the band.
This was followed by A Grade Playa. Beady-eyed readers of this blog might have noticed that the song has been at the top of my weekly chart for the last five weeks, and it absolutely stood out live. Amy shines more than ever on this powerful ode to a cheating ex. Quite possibly my favourite song of the year, it's pop perfection; brilliant pop meets dubstep (popstep?) production, soaring vocals, an unexpected and incredibly well executed key change and some of the most gorgeous harmonies I've ever heard on record, which the band pulled off impeccably live. 'Go on, go on, go on, go on, be gone' indeed!
Shine My Way was another excellent singalong, with George Sheppard showing off the more relaxed side of his vocal range. The song is from the soundtrack to The Giver and will also feature on the UK deluxe edition of Bombs Away. The only song of the night that I wasn't familiar with was Free, which was again very good.
The highlight of the show was probably always destined to be the monster Australian chart topper Geronimo, which is sure to go global any day now. One of the most instant songs of 2014, it wears its folk influences on its sleeve but is still an instant pop classic. From the 'say geronimo' chant of the chorus through to Amy's 'bombs away' ad-libs that contrast George's fantastic 'can you feeeeee-eeee-eeeel my love' falsetto, it's the perfect package and works as both a radio hit and a fantastic live showpiece. Nevertheless, I hope that this song doesn't overshadow their future career because they deserve to be a lot more than a one hit wonder.
Album track Halfway To Hell rounded off the evening in a brilliantly energetic style and left the crowd wanting more, and no doubt Sheppard will be back before long and performing to much bigger crowds. Bombs Away is without doubt one of the finest pop albums of the last few years. A grab bag of various genres but it never feels as if it was thrown together randomly. Each song tells a tale and features the band's inherent pop sound, but is accompanied by a more indie, electronic or folky feel depending on the song in question.
Sheppard are made for the stage. They ooze happiness, joy and talent and are about to hit the stratosphere, and deservedly so.