Vance Joy graced his Australian pop and locks to a packed house at the Edgefield Amphitheater Tuesday evening.
Truth be told, it wouldn’t have worked anywhere else. Free from vaulted ceilings and cramped seating, the open lawns were filled with signs of summer – shorts, tees and freshly unfurled blankets. The occasional plane heading for PDX streaked by overhead, peeking at the sold out crowd.
The Aussie stopped in Portland as part of his “Nation of Two” tour, his anticipated follow up to “Dream Your Life Away.” While the former features heavier orchestrations, Joy’s setlist moved through his discography with deft fluidity.
Joy was centerstage from the beginning. He stepped forward, solo, armed with an acoustic guitar, and kicked the evening off with “Call If You Need Me.” The sun was still out, the stage was unlit, and it was pure Joy. “I’m thinking about coming home,” he sang to the bobbing crowd.
The rest of the concert kept this theme of home. As he moved through old and new hits such as “Wasted Time” and “Like Gold,” Joy stopped to share anecdotes behind each song, like a live ‘behind the lyrics’ feature Spotify users would be familiar with.
“The vibe is strong tonight,” Joy said, his accent coming through thick. He explained how he loved writing songs in areas like the Pacific Northwest, pointing to the blackberry bushes lining the amphitheater. He remarked on the mesmerizing smell and took a satisfying breath in.
These meandering, giddy breakaways felt unrehearsed and as genuine as any of his moodier lyrical writing. Attendees got a look into his process for “I’m With You,” where he admitted to stealing the line “the rain changes everything” from a piece of artwork in an expensive Melbourne home.
The same happened with “Little Boy,” which Joy called the “most autobiographical” of his work.
When he was ten years old, Joy crashed his bike and lost a front tooth. Sure enough, when it was replaced by a doctor, the gap was filled – but with an adult tooth, what Joy called his “big chompa.” He seemed comfortable acting as not just musician but elevated MC, the pluck of a string garnering attention like the clink of a glass.
Even the jaunty moments came packaged with sincere ones. Now that Joy has two albums out and is a long way from his 18-year-old open mic days, he imparted a lasting piece of advice: “Don’t write lyrics on your forearm. You’re too nervous to look down.”
Despite these stories filling the proverbial gaps, at no point did the set feel disjointed – if anything, it felt like an intimate chat, an evening where even those who weren’t Vance-aficionados could feel they were in on some big, stretching secret.
The music was no less accommodating. It’s fair to say that if you enjoy one Vance Joy song, you enjoy them all – and this is in part due to the undercurrent of acoustic guitar that defines his music. Live, the addition of saxophone and trumpet gave a bright and punchy tone to the studio versions of songs such as “Fire and the Flood” and his most famous song, “Riptide.” A baritone sax even made a rumbling appearance.
No moment of the night was more stirring than when Joy broke out an undisclosed cover – “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie. The initial surprise was further fueled when the song became a mashup with “Sorry” by Justin Bieber. It seemed Joy couldn’t exhaust the number of tricks hidden in his circulating guitars.
Throughout the night everything felt like a shared experience – the music, the laughter and, above all, the vibe. The final song of the night, lead single “Saturday Sun,” came with a lingering irony as Tuesday dropped into night.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than this,” Joy said with open arms. The band members joined in a line, stepped forward, and bowed. Not a minute of it was wasted time.