NGAIIRE’s return to the stage was a capstone moment for the whole music industry

NGAIIRE’s return to the stage was a capstone moment for the whole music industry

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Words by Kate Streader
Photos by BandAnna Photography

Those that attended were treated to two sets from the acclaimed songwriter.

Much like the opposing natures of the National Gallery of Victoria’s dual exhibitions Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang, NGAIIRE’s two sets for her NGV Friday Nights performance drew from the polarities of the traditional and contemporary.

The first set saw the Papua New Guinean artist strip her songs back to their bones for an acoustic set comprising a keyboard and two back up vocalists. Minimal in its production, the set allowed the soul of the songs to shine through; akin to the type of understated yet invigorating sound you might stumble across in a dimly lit jazz club. That is, until NGAIIRE flexed her voice and filled the NGV Great Hall with its booming power.

Dressed in an oversized kimono-style piece from Australian fashion house Romance Was Born that was embellished with pops of colour and extravagant detail, NGAIIRE was every bit the phoenix rising from the ashes of the illness that has largely kept her from the stage for the past year or so.

In fact, it was in the throes of her recovery that NGAIIRE wrote much of her forthcoming album. Admitting the majority of her next record was penned while she was popping up to 12 endones a day to deal with the pain, NGAIIRE debuted a track drawing from the experience of creating in those circumstances titled ‘Moonshine’.

Throwing her whole body into its delivery, it was moving to see how far the singer has come since the ordeal of which she sang. The first half of her performance was sprinkled with new tracks such as this, of which the crowd were the first in Victoria to hear, according to NGAIIRE.

Dedicating another new track, ‘Closer’, to all the single people in the room, NGAIIRE raised an eyebrow and clicked her tongue when just one audience member responded to her question, “How many single people are here tonight?”.

“Just one single person?”, she laughed, clearly not buying it. “That’s a pretty good rate, Melbourne.”

After an interlude, NGAIIRE returned to the stage with the rest of the band (“aka one more person”), this time bringing some more familiar tracks to the stage. The soft soulful keys and harmonies of the previous set were now replaced with a pulsing synth, vocal grit and funk-fuelled percussive beats through favourites ‘Diggin’, ‘House on a Rock’, ‘Once’ and ‘Dirty Hercules’, the latter of which saw backup vocalist Billie McCarthy take the lead through the track’s original collaborator, Nai Palm’s part.

Not unlike Cai Guo-Qiang’s works created through igniting gunpowder, set two was an explosion of colour and energy and it was impossible not to get swept away by the groove. Marking just her second live performance of the year, NGAIIRE was anything but rusty and it was plain to see she was enjoying her return to the stage as much as we were.

Soon NGAIIRE was saying her farewells and the crowd lingered for an unsuccessful encore request before scurrying off to collect raincoats and umbrellas from coat check. As the woman of the hour hinted herself, here’s hoping the next time she’s in town it’s to launch her next album.

Highlight: Hearing songs from the new album.

Lowlight: It was over way too quickly.

Crowd favourite: ‘Dirty Hercules’.