Nabihah Iqbal played at Sydney Festival on Saturday, 13th January.
Nabihah Iqbal began the final show of her first Australian live tour in a jubilant mood. “You guys sold this out tonight,” she told the crowd at Sydney Festival’s pop-up Moonshine Bar. “That means every show on this tour was sold out.”
Iqbal has toured Australia a couple of times before in her capacity as a DJ – a pursuit that’s seen her hold down a show on NTS Radio for the last ten years. It’s fair to assume some of the Sydney audience discovered Iqbal through her work as a DJ and broadcaster, but there were some serious fans of her music in the house.
Dreamer, Iqbal’s second LP, revolves around ambient dream pop and bass-driven new wave songwriting, with the occasional rave-y climax. Her poetic lyrics – inspired by romantics like John Keats and Jeff Buckley – are spoken as often as they’re sung.
The Dreamer live show was designed to be immersive and dynamic, with its segues into drumless ambience playing off against the bright post-punk grooves of ‘This World Couldn’t See Us’ and the tight programming of ‘Sunflower’. This show, however, was plagued by sound issues from the off, preventing us from fully surrendering to the musical and spiritual journey Iqbal had envisioned.
The muddy front of house mix was apparently even worse on stage, leading Iqbal to ask, a few songs in, “Does it sound weird out there too?” A sound tech jumped on stage and we were told the show would be paused while they attempted to resolve the issue.
The Moonshine Bar forms part of Sydney Festival’s Thirsty Mile, located in a redeveloped wool store on pier 2/3 of the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct. It’s a lovely spot, with the Harbour Bridge and Luna Park visible through the windows behind the stage. But it’s not a permanent music venue, which might explain the mid-show interruption.
The show resumed and the sound was vastly improved but not altogether solved. Iqbal was radiant and personable throughout, allowing herself to be sucked into the world of the songs even if her misgivings about the mix remained.
Between songs, she provided context for her lyrics, speaking about the glorious and short-lived freedom of one’s 20s and the declarations of all-consuming love found in the letters written by a dying John Keats and his partner Fanny Brawne. On a few occasions, she expressed her relative bewilderment to be playing the songs from Dreamer to an engaged audience a world away from her London home.
Aware that this gig hadn’t been an optimal representation of her work, Iqbal promised to return to Sydney. The size of the line at the merch desk after the show suggested the majority of the crowd would flock to see her play again.