The London leg of Riley Pearce’s European tour comes amid a heat wave. The streets of Soho are hazy, people are clamouring for air con, and London feels like it’s going in slow motion. Nevertheless, Pearce is a breath of fresh air, and his appeal is evident as he packs out alternative venue Borderline in Soho.
The Australian-born singer-songwriter opens his set by saying, wryly, “it’s great to be here, particularly with this 25 degree heat wave you’ve been having”. His first song ‘Stuck in a Dream’ is a confident start. He continues with ‘Fault Lines’, ‘Outside the Lines’ and ‘Roskie’, the latter two from his seven-track 2016 album.
Reminiscent of Passenger, Bon Iver and Paul Dempsey, Pearce’s indie aesthetic is dreamy and beachy. His breakout single Brave, which he self-funded and released independently, has been played over 12 million times on Spotify and since his signing with the Free Trade Agency he has garnered a following on the indie music circuit. On record he has a clean, full, summery sound.
Live, his engaged stage patter cuts through the melancholy earnestness of his set; his landscape of songs spans growing up, sadness, the fear of pursuing something creative when all his friends are buying houses and getting jobs, falling in love with a girl who always loses her shoes, and rootlessness. He adds narrative to each song before he plays it, giving the audience an insight into his creative process. An attempted cover of Lupe Fiasco’s song ‘Kick Push’ seems to be another nod to being young and free, and hits from his album such as ‘The Long Road’ and ‘Brave’ give the set momentum.
Mid-way through he sits down, places his guitar on his lap and plays across the strings, tapping it like a drum. This adds variety allowing for the fuller sound that he achieved so well on record. Pearce then introduces some shaky audience participation, asking the crowd to fill in the horn melody on one of the tracks. He can write a good and relevant song, but the clincher for a knockout performance would probably have been a backing band. The final few tracks, ‘Elephants’, ‘If I Knew’, ‘Barefeet’ and ‘Circles’ round off a largely satisfying set.
For a young artist his set was accomplished, but it lacked the variety he would have gained had he had a few more musicians on stage. Pearce has a voice that will no doubt speak to millenials and folk fans alike, capturing the spirit of what it’s like to be young and adrift.
This gig was one of a number on his tour. Heading to Germany and Holland next, he’s sure to garner some new fans in Europe if he continues this way. With a sound suited to an intimate venue or tent at a festival, Riley Pearce is one to keep an eye on.
Lucy Harley-McKeown | WRITER