It’s one of those pre-rainy, heavily hot and sweaty evenings we’ve been experiencing in Brussels this summer and I’m heading to the Ancienne Belgique venue in the city centre to see Australian Indie/Pop artist Dope Lemon.
By the time he reached his twenties, Angus Stone (of his real name) had formed the folk duo Angus & Julia Stone together with his sister, later rising to international acclaim with their hit song “Big Jet Plane.” Originally inspired by rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, Angus Stone evolved into a more versatile and pop/coastal rock inspired musician – a style which is best found in his 2016 album Honey Bones.
Today he’s presenting his new album Rose Pink Cadillac, which came out in January 2022. Described as the “sensual soundtrack to a blissed-out ‘60s Playboy pool party,” the album was recorded on Stone’s own ranch in Australia, where he reportedly throws some big bashes of his own. The album features light, summery themes like young love, the pleasures of being high, and the temptations linked to seduction. Needless to say, we’re hyped on Dope Lemon’s performance tonight, expecting to be stirred by sensual vocals and pulled into a (Tuesday night) Australian summer celebration.
But before that comes NewDad, an up and coming indie rock band (formed in 2020), from Galway, Ireland. With 185,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, the band’s mammoth guitar riffs, The Cure-inspired heaviness, and poetic relationship-oriented lyrics combine into a dreamy, bittersweet kind of Indie pop you’ll most probably want to include in your “feeling melancholy and that’s okay” playlist.
A small crowd cheers as the band enters the stage and starts playing “Drown,” a track from their debut EP Waves. A small note on the band members’ idiosyncratic style: bass player Áindle O’Beirn has a sophisticated, witchy long-skirted look; drummer Fiachra Parslow is supporting the Belgian Red Devils with a red football shirt and a blonde mullet; lead guitarist Sean O’Dowd is the “classy one,” wearing a white pirate shirt; and singer Julie Dawson looks like she’s coming straight out of the movie LadyBird by Greta Gerwig. She also looks a bit nervous, but this doesn’t show in her beautiful, soft and dreamy voice. When the song ends, I hear a man’s voice behind me saying he really loved it (and sounding somewhat surprised). This is what I love about good opening acts – the surprise that feeds the audience’s enthusiasm for the music they’re hearing for the first time. When Julie starts singing “I don’t want to say it ‘cause you won’t want to say it back” (from “Say It”, Banshee EP), I know what the crowd’s thinking: “We will want to say it back”!
It’s time for Dope Lemon to make his flamboyant entrance with his four hatted tour mates. The lead guitarist – a ranch cowboy with a somewhat empty look on his face – starts playing the intro (an altered, slower version of “Stingray Pete”) in a storm of flashing lights and smoke. Next to him, I recognize multi-instrumentalist Elliott Hammond, a skinny middle-aged rocker wearing a red bonnet and holding a harmonica in his hand. The other two musicians are a young drummer and a bass player in a black suit. The stage seems as if it’s made to feel like they’re on the Australian ranch: there’s a liquor bottle standing on an old wooden chair and a miniature dragon-shaped totem watching over the musicians.
When Dope Lemon starts singing “Stonecutters” (from the 2016 album Honey Bones), I immediately get the sexy-sensual vibe critics like to attribute him. He’s indeed a charismatic man. After some rumbling sounds, more smoke and flashing red lights (at this point, the miniature totem looks like a devilish figurine Stone is using to bewitch us for the rest of our lives), they start playing “How Many Times,” the first song we hear from his new album Rose Pink Cadillac. I’m still a little bit puzzled by the lead guitarist, who looks completely spaced out while absentmindedly lip-syncing “how many times does it take to hear the phone.” After the band play the hit song “Marinade” (Honey Bones, 2016) immersed in a deep orange light, I notice the audience is singing along to the guitar solos more than to the lyrics. The different instruments are indeed difficult to discern and the vocals have an echo to them that makes them sound as if they were coming from afar. My friend turns to me and asks, “Is he lip-syncing?” and I’m actually wondering whether the vocals are entirely genuine. After a rad harmonica solo by Elliott Hammond on the ranchy, sexy tune “Hey You” (Smooth Big Cat, 2019), Stone grabs his acoustic guitar and starts playing “Salt & Pepper” (Smooth Big Cat, 2019), singing “I got the cocaine flame in my brain.” This finally lights the candle of the lead guitarist’s soul and he engages in a blazing solo, which, however, doesn’t do much to enflame the rather quiet audience.
The second half of the concert starts with Stone sitting down to play “Fuck Things Up” (Honey Bones, 2016) on the bass, telling us we all make mistakes, but what’s important is to be surrounded by the right people to help us move forward. Now Elliott Hammond calls us out to sing along, and Stone takes a moment to express his love for his band. It’s the most endearing part of the concert and also the first time Stone’s vocals sound completely genuine. After a more acoustic, Bob Dylan-like musical setting, the performance returns to its more poppy vibe with “Rose Pink Cadillac” (the title track of Stone’s last album). This track was co-written with Elliott Hammond, and reportedly inspired by a DMT trip in which Stone envisioned a pink Cadillac – an image that later recurred in his dreams. It’s the kind of airy pop song that makes you want to cruise along the Australian coast with your head out the window.
The concert comes to an end, and sadly, the connection between the audience and the artists isn’t as effortless as between the musicians themselves. After a smooth rendition of the hit “Home Soon” (Hounds Tooth, 2017), Stone exits the stage with a Heineken in his hand (showing off his rock star side?). Only at this point does the audience wake up to call him back on stage. Stone chose a surprisingly slow tune for the Encore – “Kids Fallin’ in Love.” Yet it works, it lets him present the band members properly and leaves the audience with a sweet aftertaste – ready to go back home on this hot and sweaty Tuesday night.
We definitely concede that Stone’s musical talents brought us to sensual, lush and dreamy heights, yet the sound checks could have been conducted more properly and there was little genuine communication between performers and audience. Despite the fine ending of the concert, we’re still convinced that Dope Lemon didn’t manage to raise his live performance to the quality of his tunes. However, if you’re (like me) a fan of Stone’s solo work, you won’t be disappointed by the list of hits he selected for the set, and you’ll be feeling full of sensual energy and Rose Pink Cadillac vibes after seeing him at one of his next EU gigs before the end of Summer 2022.
Set list: Stonecutters, How Many Times, Marinade, Hey You, Salt & Pepper, God’s Machete, Fuck Things Up, Hey Man, Don’t Look at Me Like That, Coyote, Rose Pink Cadillac, Uptown Folks, Home Soon, Encore: Kids Fallin’ in Love.
Next EU Tour dates:
Sep. 7, 2022 Trix – Antwerpen, Belgium (SOLD OUT)
Sep. 8, 2022 Uebel & Gefährlich – Hamburg, Germany (SOLD OUT)
Sep. 10, 2022 Melkweg – Amsterdam, Netherlands (SOLD OUT)
Sep. 11, 2022 Zakk – Düsseldorf, Germany
Sep. 12, 2022 Huxleys Neue Welt – Berlin, Germany
Sep. 14, 2022 Tivoli Vredenburg – Utrecht, Netherlands
Sep. 15, 2022 Batschkapp – Frankfurt Am Main, Germany
Sep. 16, 2022 Zurich, Switzerland (SOLD OUT)
Sep. 18, 2022 Santeria Toscana 31 – Milano, Italy
Sep. 20, 2022 Razzmatazz 2 – Barcelona, Spain
Sep. 21, 2022 Copérnico – Madrid, Spain