Live Review: Olympia at The Lock Tavern, Camden (May 23rd)


A healthy-sized crowd is crammed into the sweaty upstairs room of the legendary Camden watering-hole, The Lock Tavern, awaiting Olympia. The Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Olivia Bartley, A.K.A. Olympia, bounces onto the stage, dressed in a lilac velour catsuit. Tonight, Melbourne's finest exponent of dreamy synth-pop is flanked by a muscular trio that includes tonight's support act, the Sydney-based Sarah Belkner, on keyboards and backing vocals.

Bartley released her highly promising debut, the Burke Reid-produced 'Self Talk', last year to rapturous notices, earning herself a shortlisting for the Australian Music Prize. Sprinkled in Reid's magic dust, the album drips a sassy assurance, achieving an exciting balance between experimental tendencies and driving, catchy pop hooks.

Tonight she is a transfixing presence, sharing stories and asides with the crowd, elegantly shifting between both sultry and strident vocal stylings and wielding her electric guitar with a sense of modulated power that knows when to draw you in and when to release. Though her live versions of album material are meatier, grungier and more abrasive than on record - more Angel Olsen and Anna Calvi than St Vincent or Still Corners - there is a crisp, deliberate precision and control about her guitar playing that ensures that nothing feels excessive or gratuitous.

'Honey', establishes a beguiling grunge, punk and indie-rock shtick with its funereal beat and ominous build, whilst the glorious melodic sheen of acclaimed single, 'Smoke Signals' is dispatched with a swaggering authority. Bartley's vocal pyrotechnics hit their stride on the languid environmental anthem, 'Fishing Knots/Blood Vessels', and the album's title track is elevated by the dream-pop rays of a thrilling, Giorgio Moroder-esque synth line.

Demonstrating a simpatico with her band that is painless and eloquent, the affable, good-humoured Bartley keeps the audience enraptured for fifty minutes with a tightly bound, cathartic performance that will be etched in memory. Bartley is an artist with significant potential.

Michael Sumsion