Alice Phoebe Lou’s first performance of 2023, and her first hometown show in three years – WE HERE – kicked off at The Old Biscuit Mill last Friday, and the indie-folk darling proved, yet again, why she is not just a master songwriter, but a master of the stage too.
Off the back of her recent SAMA win for Best Alternative Album and an international tour, there was a lot riding on this gig. It felt like a momentous night for Alice, supported by Club Valley, Kujenga and Athi Maq, with 100% of the profits going towards Rape Crisis and The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.
Tickets sold out within days. A huge sign at the entrance to The Old Biscuit Mill read “SOLD OUT. NO TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE DOOR.” To say that Cape Town was excited for this event is an understatement. The energy was palpable, and it felt so good to be surrounded by people united in one common passion – live music.
“Everyone I’ve ever known is here,” Alice jokes while setting up. Club Valley have just finished their set, the Joburg-based duo’s piercing mix of lo-fi, pop and indie-rock a raw segue into the night’s main event. Kujenga opened before them, swaggering in with funk-fitting grooves and bold instrumentals, not forgetting their special guest, Giuliette Price, who joined the band for two supercharged tracks, giving an unforgettable vocal performance.
“Jethro, my love, can you please put my monitor up?” Alice continues. We came to know Jethro pretty well during the course of the evening – Alice was calling to him throughout her performance to tweak sound, and her painstaking attention to detail is a part of what made the night such a success.
It’s at this point that I realise just how uncompromising Alice is as an artist. As an independent, female musician in a male-dominated industry, I think you have to be uncompromising, and it shows in the career she has built for herself. She has the capital to pull off an event of this scale because she’s done it a hundred times before, on her own terms, and for that she has already paved the way for so many young female songwriters looking to follow in her footsteps.
The opening chords of “Only When I” sound out to a chorus of cheering. It’s a dreamy song, chiming with downcast drums and dizzying vintage keys, Alice’s soft, elusive voice moving gracefully above us. “Only when I touch my body” she suddenly echoes, gritty and overflowing with emotion.
She dedicates the next song to her mother – “Mother’s Eyes” – followed by “Touch”, “Dusk”, “Child’s Play” and other fan favourites. The crowd is enthralled, pushing forwards just to feel closer to the warm force of Alice’s intense showmanship.
Anyone who’s ever been to an Alice Phoebe Lou concert knows that she takes silence very seriously. “It’s rare that you find yourself in a space where everyone can stop and listen to live music together. It can be magical,” she reminds us, trying to get the people at the back to keep quiet. Her band leaves the stage and it’s just Alice and her guitar.
“Be gentle with me,” she asks, “it’s not easy playing to a crowd of over one thousand people by yourself.” She waits a while longer for everyone to stop talking. “This song is called ‘Nostalgia’.” she says.
Alice is nervous. She forgets the chords and starts again. She’s only human, and in some ways her performance feels more poignant because of the nerves. The song is beautiful and we all sing along and it’s magical like she said it would be, but people are still talking.
“Oi,” says Alice, “people at the back, shut your mouths and listen to the fucking show.” She quickly reminds us that it’s ok to reprimand your crowd so long as you do it with a smile on your face. “Sorry to keep on bringing this up but I feel like we need to set a better precedent for live music in Cape Town.” she says. “We need to respect artists more, and I’ll be the person to do that if I have to. You can talk kak anytime you want, but right now, we’re here to listen to music.”
I know everyone wants to go out with their friends and have a good time. Who doesn’t love talking shit every now and again? But in all honesty, I have to agree with Alice here. We saw how quickly live music became dispensable during Covid, and it could happen again. We owe it to artists, but also to ourselves, to be more attentive at concerts. WE HERE – let’s not forget what brought us together that night, and why it was so important that we did justice to the full experience.
We eventually manage to stay silent and Alice plays “Fynbos”. It’s a song about Cape Town and what home feels like to so many of us who grew up in the Mother City, and in that moment we all knew what we were feeling – a melancholy happiness, memories of our childhood, fragments of words and images washing over us in absolute stillness. I look to the person standing next to me and see tears in their eyes. We can’t move. We’re entranced by Alice’s voice. “Now that was magic. Thank you for sharing it with me.” she says.
Reunited with her phenomenal band, Alice ends things off with “Witches”, and we dance. It’s joyous – exactly the way she intended it to be, and then it’s over. Athi Maq cools things down with a slick DJ set and we all go home.
I’ll say it again – it felt so good to be surrounded by people united in one common passion, and I only hope we can continue to nurture live music the way it deserves to be nurtured.
All photos courtesy of Jemma Rose.