Jen Cloher – Patterns – 17th February 2018

Photo by Christian Middleton

Being at Jen Cloher’s show made me feel like a teenager again and I’ve never had that before. She’s an exciting figure to watch and her music gets under your skin. Some of her songs sound like frustration, these however are Jen’s most satisfying. The way she communicates this for instance in ‘Shoegazers’ feels like bleeding an emotional radiator. There’s this kind of feeling underlying many of her songs, quite subtly but you get something out of it. Almost through her songs you get to vent something yourself.

Her live sound is spot on when compared to her latest album. Her album sounds very much like live musicians in a room and I imagine it was recorded to reflect this. She strikes me as someone who values the integrity of her music, she never indulges in any way, it’s all very lean. This can make her sound like an intimidating figure in her songs, however, when she does speak to the audience she’s very warm and friendly.

The set list for tonight is ideal. She plays the majority of her new album. The tracks which I was expecting to hear were all fantastic. She opens with ‘Regional Echo’ and ‘Forgot Myself’ which starts everything as strong as it possibly could. ‘Great Australian Bite’ is one I wasn’t expecting to hear. It comes towards the back end of the set and Jen contextualises the song as being about a musician from Australia which is of course incredibly expensive and tough in a touring sense. She name checks The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids and Archie Roach in the song which I didn’t realise before. Having the context for a song like this gives it a depth and meaning which, in turn, gives you a whole new appreciation for the song.

She’s a solid performer as well. All her band are incredibly tight and sound spot on when playing the songs. It’s hard to not notice some excellent lead guitar going on from Courtney Barnett on the side. There isn’t much of a ‘show’ so to speak but no one really wants one. Her music is good enough to dump theatrics, it’d be plain wrong. She doesn’t need anything beyond her songs to stir up excitement in the crowd, I realised about five songs in that I’d been mouthing along to the lyrics the entire time. You can’t help but have massive respect for her no bullshit approach.

I really think there’s something that everyone and anyone could take away from her music. There’s an attitude behind it that’s admirable. Her music sounds confident and sure of itself. Her voice is understated and the moments where she does veer over, she strains her voice which sounds perfect to the mood she creates. It’s all very calculated and thought about but you wouldn’t think it was, watching her and listening to her. Her songs sound like she got up with a band, picked up a guitar and just started going. She’s a songwriter that sounds like she lives in the shade. Her music isn’t dark, it’s not particularly angry either, it has a grit to it and there are moody undertones in there. Her songs build up an itch which she then scratches.

Her music isn’t one sided though. There are songs which sound more open. ‘Dark Art’ which she plays for her encore is gentle and sensitive. ‘Sensory Memory’ is another similar moment, her music does seem like a brief window into her life. There’s a very fun side to her as well. ‘Strong Woman’ which is her most lively both on the album and at the show and is one you just want to jump around to. During the performance everyone’s exchanging smiles on stage. Cloher and Barnett run Milk! Records together and there’s a sense of family between the label and its roster. There is this same sense tonight between Jen and her band. Everyone’s smiling and laughing with each other and the night is shrouded in this positive atmosphere.

Chris Middleton