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The Jezabels Don’t Need Long to Take Off

March 14th, 2011

The Jezabels – The Bowery Ballroom – March 13, 2011

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Hayley Mary, the electric singer for the Australian four-piece the Jezabels, dressed all in black, demanded attention as the lights went down at The Bowery Ballroom just after dusk yesterday. As a part of the expansive Aussie BBQ, an event that brings together up-and-coming bands from Down Under, the Jezabels and Mary represented the most hotly buzzed of the assembled acts. Enriched comparisons suggested something of an updated Kate Bush, but Mary and her band wouldn’t give in easily to heuristic juxtaposition, favoring a more romantic understanding of their art, transmutative and entirely elevating.

The band was in sharp form from the start, opening with the spinning “Little Piece” and building their keyboard and guitar arrangements from the ground up. As appeared typical for them, their songs grew in menace as they progressed, with rolling-thunder tam drums and Mary’s powerful melodies sailing out over whipping guitars and enormous keyboard progressions. It would be a short set—a necessary evil in the Aussie BBQ format—and the band briefly thanked the audience between songs, although they clearly wanted to pack in as many songs as possible. With seemingly little fanfare, Mary obliterated the audience on the night’s second song, “Easy to Love.” It was both title and fact.

The Jezabels closed their set with “Mace Spray,” “Hurt Me” and “Dark Storm.” There were those airplane-runway-takeoff moments, like in the final chorus of “Hurt Me,” when its keyboard progression moved solidly to the ceiling as Mary wailed into the darkness and we were all pushed back in our metaphorical seats as the band took off. And in the context of a cheap visual simile, the Jezabels were certainly on their way up, even as they unceremoniously closed their set, thanked the crowd and broke down their gear. Their power to transform a lighthearted afternoon festival into something deeper, seeming of desperate importance, was unmistakable. And for 35 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, they were the best band in the world, demanding attention and headed somewhere above all our heads. —Geoff Nelson