Essence is defined simply as the fundamental nature of a thing. In music, this is often mistaken as a derivation of influences, which leads lazy reviewers to comparing new with old, often ignoring the essence of the individual artist. But while modern pop charts continue to descend into the auto-tuned pits of hell (for the most part), there are thankfully new artists making their mark, songwriters who don't subscribe to the moors of modern music, who divorce themselves from the musician-as-a-brand ideology and who actively seek to remain outside the superficial glare of the celebrity spotlight.
One such artist is M. Ward, whose indisputable talent is of the sort reviewers will be using as a reference point in years to come. And it his essence - the broke-down fragility of his voice, the passion and depth of his songwriting and his confident brilliance as a musician - will like ensure this is the case.
If such lofty praise makes me sound like a wanker, then so be it. But there are a few times in a music-lover's life when they come an artist who truly touches them and of whom they never tire of hearing. Mine is a mixed bag: Elvis Costello, Paul Kelly, The Clash, Queens Of The Stoneage, Gorillaz, Deftones and Gomez, to name a few. M. Ward is now also on that list, particularly after seeing him live recently.
I was really pleased we made it in time to see his support, local singer/songwriter Holly Throsby. Accompanied by her band, The Hello Tigers, made up of two incredibly talented multi-instrumentalists, her set of lush indie pop and folk was truly a delight. Featuring tracks from her latest album Team, her set was an almost perfect accompaniment to what was to follow. YourZenMine highly recommend her - here is a taste.
With a stripped bare stage, featuring a microphone, a piano and a guitar on a stand, there was no doubting what M. Ward's performance was going to be about - the songs. When you take away all the normal frippery associated with a modern band, I don't think there would be more than a handful of artists who could perform with as much confidence and consummate ability.
Opening with the instrumental Duet For Guitars #3 before jumping into Lullaby & Exile and Poison Cup before saying a single word to the audience, something I was particularly pleased about. Far too many musicians these days forget that most of us want to hear the songs, not them prattle on about some anecdote or another. My respect levels for Ward went up a couple of more notches.
Moving from the guitar to the piano and back, he enthralled the packed house with tracks like Hold Time, Chinese Translations, Never Had Nobody Like You and a personal favourite, Fuel For Fire, as well as a cover of the David Bowie track, Let's Dance, retold as an alt-country gem. Sung with Ward's gravel-laced voice, it gave the track a dark menace not apparent in the original. He truly is a modern legend in the making and if you get the chance to see him live, I have no doubt you will agree. This is an early contender for gig of the year.