Jeremy Neale @ Black Bear Lodge, 19th June

Black Bear Lodge starts off quietly on a Friday night, as usual. Two upbeat openers before the main act mean that the place has a house-party sort of vibe with musos chilling beside valley-dwellers and hipster rockers. Jeremy Neale lingers around the bar, chatting to whoever’s about and watching the atmosphere slowly build. We have a good (slightly tipsy) chat about life, music, and lots of things in-between.

The first act, Youth Allowance, fill the room with twinkly indie rock, flavoured with strong vocals and an endearing stage presence. They’re young, just out of high school, but have a laid back energy about them that adds to their obvious production and performance skill. It’s a refreshing way to start a show.

Support troup, Sans Parents, bring in an integrated set that flows from song to song with heavier rock influences than their precursors. We hear clean harmonies and clever layering, but it’s unfortunately hazy due to the usual poor sound at Black Bear. It’s a shame because their garage-y sound is rough around the edges like good rock should be, but bad mixing makes it a little too blurred and noisy.

Finally, Neale saunters onto the crowded stage which is brimming with people and instruments. After chatting warmly to the audience, he starts with Merry-Go-Round, a retro-flavoured and endlessly beachy track from his EP, In Stranger Times. The audience is fuller than before and they modestly bob their heads and smile as the room swells with indie pop. Neale‘s passion and chilled attitude is immediately clear, but most of all you get a sense of his inimitable sense of humour, mingled with a good, old-fashioned sense of nostalgia. Peppering the set with all sorts of tunes old and new we hear tracks as recent as the latest single Hold On Together, which features a groovy 80s feel and brilliant sax solo and as old as 2012’s Darlin’, which brings the audience in close with its catchy 60s-rock rhythm.

Once again, the greatest shame of the set is the terrible sound quality, which detracts from the slick production value and tight synchronicity. Neale‘s voice is strong, tuneful, and unafraid to rasp and shout for effect and suffers the worst from this. It’s frustrating to struggle to discern the lyricism and careful melody of songs like Swing Left and Do Do Do. Still, the friendly atmosphere almost makes up for it; it’s like a big, rambling party crammed in a hunting lodge.

After an hour, the band squishes against the back wall and Neale invites random audience members (including me) onstage until there is barely an inch of room between us all. The set closes with In Stranger Times, and the whole stage gyrates with feel-good 60s vibes as the crowd sings along. It’s a fun and personal way to end the night, once again proving that Neale never makes the fatal mistake of taking himself too seriously.

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