Updated: Feb 16
Photo credit: Manuel Casanova
It is almost rare to find a festival lineup these days without seeing SAFIA inscribed somewhere across it. The boys are in high demand, and understandably too. Over the last few years the Canberra trio Ben Woolner, Michael Bell and Harry Sayers have been going from strength to strength, climbing the festival billing and announcing bigger and grander headline tours. On Sunday the 8th, the three took stage (for the second successive night!) to Melbourne’s most marvellous theatre, the Forum.
Making your way to the venue you hold your breath wondering if the artists can deliver to such a spectacle. Having seen SAFIA in the Mix Up Tent at Splendour in the Grass in 2018 those thoughts were eased. Every show they play you’re left with the feeling that the atmosphere they create can extrapolate to a bigger and more impressive setting.
On this evening concert goers were treated to not one, but two incredible support acts. Local product, Eilish Gilligan impressed early attendees with her pop electronica. Gilligan showed serious activeness moving about the stage with purpose to accompany her powerful vocals. The 2018 Triple J Unearthed winner could hit you right in the feels with the softest of whispers or the loudest of yells.
Between Gilligan’s and SAFIA’s set was Boo Seeka’s who honestly took the cake for me. As the two legged it out on stage holding their instruments and bottles of wine that familiar rushing sensation from a Boo Seeka concert flowed through my body. The stage may be a helping factor, but they have a presence that grabs the attention of everyone in the room. Comparable to some of the great Aussie frontmen floating around today like Dave Le’aupepe from Gang of Youths, vocalist and guitarist from Boo Seeka Ben Gumbleton can somehow pull off those ridiculous dance moves as if nobody’s watching. The energy Ben induces from this carefree approach encourages the crowd to become present and lose themselves in the gig, forgetting about their life worries for just a few moments.
The highlights of Boo Seeka’s set would have to have been when the Forum lit up during Turn Up Your Light as everyone swayed their torches from left to right throughout the entire song and the sea of people on shoulders during their final song Does This Last (with a cheeky Khalid Young, Dumb & Broke interlude cover). No doubt these moments will be replicated in this very hall when they play their own headline shows here one day.
With the amazing supports more than covering the cost of the ticket, SAFIA turned out to be an added bonus.
It was a match made in heaven combining the inter-galactic set of the three-piece with the starry Forum night sky. Fans were sent into a state of disarray as the indie-electronic group delivered a fine collection of their best tunes.
Astoundingly with the amount complexity throughout their catalogue, it was just the three of them on stage! Together they took on a great load of work whilst being energetic and engaging with the crowd. They looked in their element, especially front man Ben Woolner. With a vocal range that could make a grown man cry, Woolner was relentless on the keys and dancing across all 4 corners of the stage, even singing into a megaphone at one point!
It was evident how calculated every move was. The visuals were trippy and fantasy-like, failing to disappoint throughout the entirety of the set with the accompanying lasers. The timing between these and the trio were uncanny, shooting tingles through the body amidst this galactic dreamscape.
With so many great moments the highpoint for me would have to have been during Embracing Me in the encore. The first song that hooked me onto these guys however many years ago. The visuals halted during this number and Woolners’ vocals were drowned out by the crowd in this powerful rendition. This signified just how authentic this hit really is and how it’ll continue to withstand the test of time.
It is clear that SAFIA set themselves up around their live performance. Having been on the live circuit for many years now, they are no longer the new kids on the block still trying to find their feet. They are a band that is in complete control and knows how to put on a bloody good show.