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THE HOLY SMOKE – SONAR ROOM

The Holy Smoke, L to R Karlee Rae, Dee Walsh, Rose Parker
The Holy Smoke, L to R Karlee Rae, Dee Walsh, Rose Parker

The Holy Smoke
EP Launch, The River – Sonar Room
5 July

The Holy Smoke finished their 2025 world tour with a triumphant homecoming at Perth Arena.  As they have for a few years now, they closed their last encore with just Dee Walsh, Rose Parker and Karlee Rae belting out an a capella rendition of The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’.  Having dismissed their eight-piece touring band, they stripped it back to the purity of the three-part harmonies that were the genesis of The Holy Smoke, finishing where it all began almost a decade earlier in a back-yard shed in suburban Maylands.

Each sings their part and, while the music is flowing, they’re bound together in some sort of harmonic gestalt.  As a listener, you get transported to a world where everything is just right.

As the applause died down, I could swear that the air in the Arena’s cavernous space was still resonating with the remnants of the three singer’s voices, ever entwined, still moving the departing audience both literally and spiritually.

It’s nice to dream a little, but there’s nothing to say that this isn’t a reality that could come to pass for The Holy Smoke.  And, on 5 July, 2019, as they launched their EP, The River, at Fremantle’s Sonar Room, it was Walsh who set the 2025 touring date, acknowledging that she has some child rearing duties that will likely be a bit more pressing than her music career for the next little while.

The Holy Smoke did begin a few years ago in Walsh’s shed out the back of her home in Maylands.  Dee Walsh and Rose Parker had come across each other’s paths before, but they’d never worked together.  Until that evening, Walsh and Parker hadn’t yet met Karlee Rae, they’d only corresponded via email.  The way they tell it during their sets, their first vocal excursion together, a rendition of ‘Down In The River To Pray’ from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, stopped them in their tracks.  They knew from the moment the last note faded that something special had happened.

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I asked the three members of The Holy Smoke after their set at The Sonar Room what they said to each other after that first run through.  “Wow!” was their unison answer.  And when I asked, “Really?”, Walsh elaborated:  “We just looked at each other. For a while, we didn’t really have the words.  Then it was just, ‘Wow!’”

I felt a bit better after that exchange.  I’d first set out to review The Holy Smoke when they performed at The Ellington in February, but I couldn’t find the words to do them justice.  Everything I wrote sounded clichéd, gushy, adolescent.  In the end, I gave up trying.  So, I was comforted that the band themselves also had difficulty finding words to describe what they do.

The Holy Smoke are one of those whole is greater than the sum of the parts propositions.  I’ve never been quite sure what that axiom means, but I think this band are a living embodiment that goes something like this:  three musicians — each one a fabulous vocalist in their own right — come together because the universe decreed it.  Each sings their part and, while the music is flowing, they’re bound together in some sort of harmonic gestalt.  As a listener, you get transported to a world where everything is just right.

The Holy Smoke

The Holy Smoke

Opening their set at The Sonar Room with ‘Down In The River To Pray’, The Holy Smoke gave us the introduction in single voice.  The harmony, when it came, hit the audience in their collective solar plexus.  There were gasps of amazement, low cheers and other noises of appreciation, and it wasn’t the last time during the set that the vocals elicited this response.

There was actual magic in the air.

For the Holy Smoke, it’s the vocals that shine.  The songs are augmented with Walsh and Rose’s acoustic guitars, Rae’s keyboards and a little bit of percussion.  The set is a blend of covers and originals, with plenty of room for the voices.  Always the voices.

And that’s where it could all begin and end.  Or, they could chart a course towards 2025.  Keep writing songs until their originals have the breadth and depth of the carefully curated covers in their set.  Have a look at what they’ll need to do to continue to hold audiences in their thrall as they fill bigger and bigger venues.  Figure out how to keep the stopper out of the bottle of magic they uncorked in that Maylands shed as well as how to make sure it never empties.

The Holy Smoke

The Holy Smoke

These are the some of the delicious choices that lie ahead of the three members of The Holy Smoke.  Hypothetically, anyway, because, if they simply keep on doing what they do right now, that would be more than enough.  They’ve already changed the lives and the worlds they’ve touched with their music.

But, I wouldn’t mind being in the front row of an arena as The Holy Smoke’s band breaks into the introduction of their set opener — a long intro, building anticipation — and then seeing Walsh, Parker and Rae walk on stage, the audience out of their seats before a single note has been sung, just to hear and feel that harmonic sucker punch yet one more time.

At The Sonar Room, The Holy Smoke were supported by Kat Wilson, who played a solo set of the delicious songs for which she is becoming increasingly well known.

If she continues in this vein, 2020 will be the Year Of The Kat.

Tonight was something of a turning point in Wilson’s career, as she debuted two new songs, putting down her trusty black Strat and, instead, accompanying herself on the keyboard.  Currently in the final stages of recording her third EP, the new songs and new instrumentation signposted the next step in Wilson’s career.  Already an accomplished performer, tonight Wilson gave those who were listening a glimpse of what’s to come.

Kat Wilson

Kat Wilson

If that glimpse is anything to go by, what we can expect from Wilson is a maturing of her song writing and an expansion of the instrumentation required to carry it off live.  Starting out as an artist who wrote songs about being bored on the verge of her suburban home, what we now see is an artist who can already lay claim to being one of Australia’s best observational song writers with a unique voice and, when she hits her stride, the on-stage presence to make any audience her own.

If she continues in this vein, 2020 will be the Year Of The Kat.

Follow The Holy Smoke on Facebook here.
Follow Kat Wilson on Facebook here.

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