Words by Emily Hollitt
I made my way through the all the bustle of Fortitude Valley as I headed towards The Zoo. I had my usual anxiety as I made way through the streets as it grew more and more crowded with partygoers. The Zoo has come to be one of my favourite venues. The last time I was here I saw LA’s Phoebe Bridgers perform amidst the Ryan Adams sexual misconduct controversy, giving final track to the night Motion Sickness so much more meaning.
Because of this and being a solely female-run venue since it’s opening, The Zoo has always felt like a safe haven for me- where I am allowed to feel what I have experienced, what the people in the room around me have experienced as well as what the powerful artists on stage have felt too. I anticipated Montaigne’s performance would be nothing less due to the heavy topics covered in her emotion-driven latest album ‘Complex’ which she was touring. But what I got far surpassed my expectations.
Stevie Jean was the first to hit the stage. Surrounded by the vast collection of instruments set up for the headliner, making her small frame look that much smaller. But suddenly her presence seemed all that much larger as soon as she opened her mouth. It was like Ariana Grande’s vocal power fused with the songwriting and style of Julia Jacklin; and it was breathtaking. Many of the night’s attendee’s moved from the back of the venue towards the stage, leaving their conversation as her voice lured them in.
At just 20 years old, Stevie Jean had already proved herself as one of the most dynamic and captivating current Australian performers. Hell in Every Religion was played next, my favourite from her debut ‘Blame Game’ EP. Detailing her views on religion after spending her school years at a Catholic school, and the restrictive control that comes with devoted religious lifestyle. “I’ll love who I love while you try to burn me” she sings, leaving the chorus on such a powerful statement. “This is the only love song I’ve written.” She announces before playing I Like You. “You grabbed my face, well, what did you think would happen?” she sang seductively. December Song ends the night as she tells the story of a friend who she fell in love with but, at the time, had a boyfriend. “You don’t know what I can do, but I bet you want to. Cos I see the red in your cheeks when I walk in to the room” she says, announcing the power she still had over this friend.
The murmur in the crowd was already only positive after Stevie’s performance, but the energy quickly changed as Miss Blanks walked on to the stage. In her eye-catching gold mini dress and confident demeanor, she instantly demanded all the attention in the room- and got exactly that. ”Shout out to all the bitches with the fat ass!” she announces, met by a very fitting “woo!” from the crowd. Proudly herself, Miss Blanks slayed the stage, speaking of her femininity, her trans identity and everything in between. She was unashamed of everything that made her who she is, and she was met with love and adoration from the whole crowd. “Who’s fuckin’ tonight?” she asked between her songs. “I feel like we all have that one person and we’re like, ugh, this bitch” she says and was met by excited screams before she rapped, you guessed it, This Bitch. Her set ended on her final track Fantasty and the crowd was beyond hyped for the night’s headliner, Montaigne.
“I can see her! I can see her!” murmured the excited voices around me as they were looking side of stage to catch a glimpse. “Stay hydrated, it’s bloody hot!” announced Montaigne before the opening chords to CHANGE began. Every single word was sung back to her, indicating the influence of her album. She continued through the track list of ‘Complex’ with the title track and Losing My Mind before singing an old favourite, Because I Love You. The night peaked as she picked up her acoustic and joined her band in playing Please You, highlighting the sheer power of her voice, following her current single Love Might Be Found (Volcano). Her band left the stage, leaving herself and her keyboardist, as she sang an intimate rendition of her 2016 track, Consolation Prize, taking the night on an emotional turn.
“I’m always drawn to bad situations and bad people but now I’m in a really good relationship. If you currently are or have been in a situation that… has hurt you… I send all my love to you. And things do get better” were the words she spoke before she began Stockholm Syndrome. This was song was the standout from the album for me. Surrounded by a bunch of incredibly produced and emotionally driven tracks, there was something about this one that hit me harder than the rest. The dark production and the plainness of the lyrics gives the song an uncomfortable but very real feeling as it details her experiences and situations of a time when she was in an abusive relationship. It gave me almost the exact uncomfortable feeling I had when I was in mine. And hearing it live hit a lot differently and I found myself crying to a room full of strangers.
I felt the arm of one girl I had just met around me, and support from another behind me and my emotions were supported. “We’ve all had a cry to Montaigne. ‘Consolation Prize’ does it to me!” she said. It was nice to be embraced by a group of people who have felt what I have felt in different ways, and have an artist use her experiences to capture something that helps other people who have felt the same way. I’d imagine that there would be a song for everyone on the album that makes them feel like Stockholm Syndrome makes me feel. And in the reminders the songs bring, there is hope attached. Every track holds a reminder, a feeling or an experience but also is proof that all of these things can be overcome, or turned in to a powerful piece of music, or used as a story to make someone else feel less alone.
Pleasure and is this all I am good for? continue the night as the emotion of the last performance still lingers in the air. “You guys are so quiet and respectful!” she says to the crowd as her set draws closer to a its end. She thanks the support acts before ending the night on a high, with the album’s first single READY. She leaves the stage to only be met by a chant from the crowd for more. She brings her band back for a final rendition of I Am A Fantastic Wreck. You can tell she had anticipated this. Much like the rest of the set, every lyric was screamed back to her. And the room was filled with such a beautiful feeling of community and togetherness unlike any gig I had ever been to before.
I exchanged some words with some of the girls before I left, and we shared our stories of how we felt about the set and how we connected to Montaigne and her music. I found the girl in the crowd to my left had left her abusive relationship at the same time I had. It was her first time hearing a lot of Montaigne’s music, and she was so inspired by the amount of vulnerability and emotion that was put in to her music and her performance. I made my way to the merch desk before leaving the venue with this beautiful, almost nostalgic feeling. That room was full of some of the most powerful performers and empathic, compassionate crowd members I had ever had the luck to meet and be surrounded by. The world can be a really scary place but it’s nights like this that remind me that whatever we go through, there is always someone else who has felt the same. And because of this, we are never alone in our feelings.
You can stream the complete ‘Complex’ album HERE now!
And there’s still a few shows left to go on Montaigne‘s ‘Complex’ Album Tour: