Singer-Songwriter Vance Joy Shows Off His Storytelling Abilities at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

click to enlarge Singer-Songwriter Vance Joy Shows Off His Storytelling Abilities at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Scott Sandberg
You didn’t know that Vance Joy has an extra-large glow-in-the-dark tooth, did you?

Well, that’s the kind of story you hear when you attend one of his concerts.

Joy returned to Cleveland last night on his Nation of Two Tour, playing a nearly sold-out concert at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. The music and design of the show were impressively beautiful, but the best part was how honest Joy was with the audience. Joy told stories about almost every one of his songs, and that created a smaller community feel within an outdoor 5,000-seat venue.

You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here.

In addition to talking about that time he flipped over his bicycle and knocked out a tooth (the inspiration behind “Little Boy”), Joy also shared some advice his mom gave him that made it into “Alone With Me,” and that is, to always look up, because you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. He also joked that one should look down as well because he found $100 the other day.

In a sea of screaming young adults, Joy was the calm before the storm. But that shouldn’t be too surprising given his comforting, hopeful indie pop sound. The setlist included 17 songs, most of which came from his new album, Nation of Two. He also played some hits (like the first song he released and that jump-started his career, “Riptide”) from 2014’s Dream Your Life Away, and a mashup of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”

Joy made a dramatic entrance as the fog machines were going wild, and just when we couldn’t see anything, a man dressed in all black with nothing but an acoustic guitar was revealed. His somber opening song, “Call If You Need Me,” set the right tone for the concert.

Among the songs Joy performed, he displayed a large vocal range featuring falsetto and numerous register shifts. He effectively belted on occasion too. And every song required a stage hand to bring a different stringed instrument to Joy, who alternated between ukulele and various guitars. But the transitions between instruments were executed flawlessly.

Once Joy started playing his 75-minute set, the audience cheered everything he did, from singing a lengthy high note to taking a swig of water and wiping off his sweaty forehead.

“The vibe is strong. I feel it,” he said at one point.

Joy wasn’t tooting his own horn when he said that with his charming Australian accent. (The boats along the river and Joy’s saxophonist took care of all the horn honking during the concert). He was not hallucinating: the energy from the audience was indeed positive, evidenced by the dedicated audience’s singing along and bopping around.

What could have been a visually boring show was saved by the brilliant lighting and scenic designs. It seemed like every verse of a song was emphasized with a new lighting choice. The background of Joy’s set consisted of two rows of white squares embellished with inconsistent shapes of fabric as well as circular lights around the perimeters. Seven outlines of artwork inspired by and including the cover of Nation of Two snugly fit in between the two rows and either lit up in powerful colors or disappeared altogether, depending on the mood of the section of the song.

The lighting design worked very well with the musicality — golds, oranges and reds flashed onstage during “Fire and the Flood,” “Like Gold,” and “Saturday Sun.” A saturated blue wash covered Joy during “Alone With Me.” Layers of lighting effects and surprises served with the background as aesthetically pleasing visual movement when Joy and the other musicians onstage were relatively stationary.

Mondo Cozmo, an indie/folk/alternative rock musician opened for Joy and deserved more attention than the shuffling crowd was giving him. Although his lyrics were a little hard to understand because of a muddy sound mix, the audience warmed up to him and his music after each song. Perhaps that’s because a steady stream of people kept coming into the pavilion. Or maybe it’s because the singer revealed a sense of humor when he commented that he was “dressed wrong” because even though the sun was out, it was chilly.

It might have even been because Cozmo performed his song “Plastic Soul” that he wrote in honor of David Bowie. Regardless, the smartest and most special thing Cozmo did was play a pop rock rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” Of course, that was one of the most successful songs of the night, audience engagement-wise, even though no one knew the lyrics outside of the chorus. This opener was a great choice for Joy’s tour. The two bands’ sounds and song content differ, but they echoed each other nicely.
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