Review of Angus & Julia Stone live at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester on April 21st 2010

Tentatively venturing onto a stage littered with unusual tit-bits such as floral arrangements, teddy bears and microphones decorated in ivy, sibling duo Angus and Julia Stone looked as though they were surprised by their popularity in the UK. Performing to sold-out venues across the UK, with The Ruby Lounge no exception, the pair were humble from the outset.

Angus & Julia Stone

Beginning with 'And The Boys', the duo's second single from latest album 'Down The Way' and continuing with another three tracks from that album, it was clear that the pair understood that the purpose of this tour was to sell their latest album. And a good job they did of doing so.

In a set led primarily by Julia, she had the greater presence of the duo throughout. With Angus appearing the most shy of the two, it was left to Julia to engage the audience with chat and it wasn't until later in the set that Angus' seemingly gentle nature was fully accepted by the audience.

The venue - usually more than adequate for much bigger bands - appeared unsuitable on occasions; the sound wasn't perfect and the layout of the venue didn't allow a large portion of the audience any view at all of the stage. This meant the beginning of the set was marred by a sense of unrest; those directly facing the stage were enthralled by the chilled-out performance in front of them, whilst those on the outskirts certainly weren't feeling part of the love-in. No doubt many of them woke up the following morning with stiff necks from having to crane them to get just a fleeting glimpse of the band.

'Down The Way' is a more guitar-led album then the band's previous offering; in the venue this didn't always translate; the louder the guitar, the worse the sound. It is when Julia sang alone and stripped back that the set worked the best.

As the evening progressed, the pair became more animated, with Julia often providing an explanation of the meaning behind the songs. The more cynical in the audience could be forgiven for thinking this lapsed into pretentiousness. Those of a more lenient nature lapped it up.

The pair asked if they could perform a different version of 'Hollywood', a track from first album 'A Book Like This'. The audience was never going to refuse, but it's unlikely they expected a Jack-Johnson inspired calypso version. Definitely not as strong as the album version.

Those that were struggling to see from the outset seemed to disperse over to the bar before the end of the set. And many of those that gave up missed the most bizarre move of the evening; a decision to perform a couple of eclectic covers. Julia's performance of Grease's 'You're The One That I Want' must have surprised many. Such a cover didn't seem necessary; the band's own material is strong enough to stand alone and they had the audience fascinated. However, Julia's vocals - sometimes reminiscent of Ellie Goulding's, - were beautiful enough to carry through a strong performance.

The second cover, 'Dreams', originally by Fleetwood Mac, also - surprisingly - seemed to go down well. Whether the band need to continue performing such covers remains to be seen.

During the encore the band brought out the crowd pleasers with three stunning performances of 'Just A Boy', 'Wasted' - the most fragile performance of the set - and 'Santa Monica Dream'.

Ending with the obligatory '.glad to be back, thanks for having us.' comment, the band left the stage having performed a set that mixed old and new tracks and having proven that the admiration and respect their UK fans have for them is well-deserved.

Katy Ratican

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