Ravyn Lenae's Melbourne show was so intimate she made Howler feel like a small jazz club

A no-frills backing band mirrored Lenae's sincere and appreciative onstage persona. 

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Tasha Strachan

2018 was a big year for Ravyn Lenae; in January she celebrated her 19th birthday and two weeks later released her third EP, Crush, a laidback collection of funky R&B and modern soul. The EP’s first single ‘Sticky’ had arrived two months earlier and turned heads thanks to its bouncy bassline, assured vocals and the touch of its producer Steve Lacy, of The Internet, who helmed the entire project. The idiosyncrasies that the pair explored, the seamless fluidity of the collaboration and above all the confidence of the music seemed to announce Lanae’s arrival as an important figure in modern R&B.

With a no-frills backing band comprised of drums, guitar and bass with only subtle backing track adornments, the effect was one of intimacy, causing the sold-out Howler bandroom to feel like a small jazz club. All faces were turned towards Lanae as she cooed and shimmied, one hand eternally raised upwards, two braids lightly swaying as they framed either side of her face, her eyes closing as she hit the high notes.

Lanae has a beautiful but not overly unique voice, and she effortlessly hit every note, her hands moving to her stomach during moments of vibrato. Similarly, the band mostly held their parts down reliably, with much of Crush’s eccentric funk toned down in favour of a simpler, jazzier feel, though the bass player communicated plenty of soul and the guitarist seemed to squeeze some surprising tones out of his pedals in place of a keys player. One major distraction was the drumming, which seemed consistently too hard and busy; his fast fills that punched their way through the mix would have been much more at home in a heavy rock show and robbed the sound of much of its groove.

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Lanae’s onstage persona was extremely sincere and appreciative, constantly sharing affirmations and reflections on love, life and self-empowerment in the straight-faced way that only American performers can get away with. She introduced ‘Thirst’ from her 2017 Midnight Moonlight EP as being about ‘looking inward for validation’ and ‘inner love’. “Who has ever been sad?” she asked at one point. “Who has ever been friend-zoned?” at another, nodding with knowing empathy towards the hands being raised before dipping into ‘4 Leaf Clover’, a song about jealousy and longing and one of the set’s highlights.

Though Lanae carried her parts expertly, particularly in the latter song, the lack of live backing vocals were noticeably absent and could have helped add some extra weight to the arrangements as they do on the recording.

With no full-length release yet to her name, the show was remarkably short at 45 minutes, a worthy cover of OutKast’s ‘Prototype’ providing a nice sidestep before ending with ‘Sticky’ and an encore of ‘Free Room’ from her 2016 debut EP, Moon Shoes. The song’s fast and bouncy beat was a good to choice to end on, releasing some of the energy that had at times felt a bit reserved throughout the set. The future is bright for Ravyn Lenae; hopefully next time we see her in Australia it will be with a full album and a bigger band to do it justice.

Highlight: It was all good.

Lowlight: It was all good.

Crowd favourite: ‘Sticky’.