The Toff is sticky with sweat and excitement. It’s all thanks to Spender’s set. The mood now is relaxed, and the dancing a little loose. At the perfect moment, Ainslie Wills takes to the stage. Spender whet our appetites, and now we all press forward.
I’m instantly captivated. It’s clear from the outset that Wills’ voice is better live. Mind you, it’s already pretty damn good recorded. She begins to dip in and out of her smooth registers, showing less restraint but still just as refined.
Wills commands everybody’s attention by standing centred with just her guitar and her incredible voice. Slowly creeping, her band makes its way on stage to join her for the rest of the set. They magnify her music, but never overstep. Her voice is always strong and unwavering, reaching right into the corners of each piece of music. She’s better live because she twists everything just a little. It’s a treat to listen to her slink up and down her vocal registers and explore her range.
The set features some of my favourites from her 2010 EP Somebody For Everyone including ‘I’m Your Woman’ and ‘Wide Load’. Old songs made new again like ‘Love in Japan’ will be included on her forthcoming album You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine, due next year. As will two singles she has released this year ‘Stop Pulling the String’ and ‘Fighting Kind’.
Previously my favourite song was ‘Wide Load’ but during the set it’s hard to pick a favourite. Though it’s still easy to fall for the sultry and comfortable base line. Slowly, the crowd begins to sway.
‘I’m Your Woman’ is easily the most intriguing of the night. Wills gives an introduction to the song by sweetly explaining that it’s about listening to your intuition. It’s the first time she interacts with the crowd. Seeing some of her personality eases me a little, it’s reassuring to be reminded that she’s human in amongst all that talent. By now I’m already convinced that this will be one of the best performances I see all year.
Wills then invites Tom Spender from earlier on to join her on stage. The two recount how they met. They were invited up to the Blue Mountains to participate in a music workshop run by The Seed, an arts music grant fund set up by John Butler and wife Danielle Caruana (you might know her under the moniker Mama Kin).
Their duet is ‘Sign Your Name’ a 1987 single from Terence Trent D’Arby. Wills and her guitar joined by Spender on the backing vocals flaws me. I always love unexpected covers. It suits Wills’ smokiness and Spender’s quirkiness perfectly. I just wish I could hear it again.
Spender leaves and her band join her back on stage to perform ‘The High Road’ by Broken Bells. Again it’s another great cover and they perform it in the same style as the original, complimented with Wills’ pop sensibilities. Thoroughly enjoyable.
‘Stop Pulling the String’ brings us back to Wills’ music and she ends with ‘Fighting Kind’. They’re singles that show off the timbre in her voice and her melodies hang back and turn often enough to keep things interesting. She’s always enchanting, swinging from side to side gazing down the end of her microphone. Occasionally she reaches for the tambourine and bops around injecting more energy into the crowd.
This was the first time I saw Wills live and it won’t be my last. She did end up being one of the best gigs I’ve been to all year. Do yourself a favour and make sure you see her too. I can’t wait till next time.
REVIEW BY STEF ITALIA