Montaigne @ 170 Russell

It’s been a long while since I enjoyed a live gig in a general admission, in a smaller venue where you can feel the thumping bass and the floor reverberate under your feet. I’m glad I took a chance on this young Aussie, who turned out to be a fabulous live performer.

I must confess, it’s taken me a long time to warm up to Montaigne, who’s been a Triple J darling for the last eight years or so, as well as representing Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2021. I used to find her theatrical, swooping vocals overly emotive, grating and just too over-the-top. With time however her voice and her melodic art pop have grown on me, and the pent-up thirst for live music after the last two years made me a lot more willing to splash the cash.

I haven’t been to 170 Russell in almost four years and I completely forgot how small and intimate it is. My energy levels on the Thursday night weren’t up to coming earlier for the supporting act, who later got some effusive praise from Montaigne, so who knows, maybe I missed out on something special. Thanks to the density limits the venue was decently full but not exactly packed, with the floor in front of the stage broken up by tall drink tables. I decided to hang at the back on top of the stairs, close enough to the stage and with no tall guys to block the view.

I love my long-time musical favourites who are now aging with me, but sometimes it’s just nice to see a younger artist bringing a distinctly youthful energy and attitude. Montaigne was simply delightful, a natural entertainer and storyteller, with a unique theatrical talent and a smile that lights up the stage. Her powerhouse vocals (reminiscent of Kate Bush or fellow Australian eccentric Kate Miller-Heidke) were spot-on, and a bit more toned down compared to her studio recordings, without that extra histrionic edge that used to annoy me. I also realised that I actually knew a lot more Montaigne songs than I thought I did, including her early Triple J hits I Am Not an End and I’m A Fantastic Wreck.

The young-ish crowd gave Montaigne an enthusiastic welcome and she repeatedly gave us heartfelt thanks for coming along in these uncertain times, sharing that the last two years weren’t easy and that at one point she suffered a crisis of confidence as an artist. She also joked that since this was her very first comeback live show, we were going to get a spontaneous version of Montaigne banter, which she would usually polish and refine at later concerts. I don’t know what the current protocol on dancing at live gigs was exactly, but regardless, seeing the audience jump and dance during the more high energy songs was a truly joyful sight.

P.S. The Melbourne CBD at night as I was driving home looked its liveliest in a long while, with tons of dressed-up people coming back from the shows and other engagements.

P.P.S. Apparently Montaigne used to be a Rey and Kylo Ren shipper back in the day! She randomly brought it up while talking about Because I Love You, the song she wrote about a failed past relationship that in hindsight was pretty bad.

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