Vance Joy’s expressive vocals and sweet melodies warm the heart, body and soul. Within Oakland’s Fox Theater on March 9, the Australian singer and songwriter built a space of respite from the latest atmospheric river that hit the Bay Area.
Clad in earthy blues and greens, Vance Joy kept things simple for his tour of his latest album, In Our Own Sweet Time, released last year on June 10. The indie pop artist’s set was reminiscent of a cave: netting draped from the ceiling glowed in different colors for each song, making it feel as if the entire audience was surrounding a beach bonfire together.
Joy and his five-member band interspersed old fan-favorites with tracks from his new record. The setlist was representative of Joy’s collective discography — mostly upbeat, romantic songs. Joy delivered his heartfelt lyrics without the fanfare of costume changes or intricate set designs, but he maintained foot-tapping, hip-swaying enthusiasm that made it impossible not to sing and dance along.
The set opened with “Missing Piece,” Joy’s most popular single from In Our Own Sweet Time, then threw it back to earlier hits such as “Mess is Mine” and “Like Gold.” The musician connected with his audience not only through his bright-eyed gaze, but also with the anecdotes he shared in between numbers.
Before launching into the next song, “Every Side of You,” he divulged the inspirational challenges he faced while writing during the pandemic. Joy joked that he knew he had to get off the couch and start creating again once he found himself watching Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” — a confession that elicited sheepish laughter from the audience.
From time to time, the band members encouraged the audience to clap along, but when they left Joy alone on the stage for a few songs in the middle of the set, the audience’s enthusiasm remained strong. Joy’s voice crooned to unheard heights on the more mellow track, “I’m With You.” He prefaced the song with a story of how the vocal coach he worked with told him this would be the best vocal take of his life, and the audience’s whoops and hollers in response to the high notes suggested they would agree with that assessment.
Joy waited until nearing the end of the set to switch out his guitar for a ukulele and burst into his breakthrough hit, “Riptide.” The song’s relatively simple chord progression has made it a go-to for covers and sing-alongs, and it has been covered widely by artists including Taylor Swift. If any member of the audience did not know the tune’s every word before the night, they undoubtedly did by its end.
Toward the start of his set, Joy shared a story of how a regular customer at the coffee shop in Melbourne where he first started performing once told him he would be better off sticking to covers. Despite this warning, his second-to-last song was a mashup between ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” and Madonna’s “Hung Up.” Despite the crowd’s knee-jerk opposition to the idea that Joy should not perform his own music, they certainly danced the night away to this one.
Joy closed the night with his chart-topping single, “Lay It on Me.” The song’s lyrics tell the story of a friendship that turns to something more, and its instrumentalization reflects the slow heightening of emotions involved in that process. The two in conjunction tugged on the audience’s heartstrings as Vance Joy reached the chorus’s crescendo, asking, “If all my defenses come down, will you lay it all on me now?”
Joy certainly laid everything he had on the table throughout the night, and as they bundled up and headed out into the blustery night, the audience seemed overjoyed to receive everything the musician had to offer.