Thelma Plum @ Howler, VIC, Saturday September 15, 2018.

Words | Nick Kennedy

To begin proceedings at Howler last Saturday, Asha Jefferies and Alice Skye were tasked with entertaining the masses. Jefferies is hot of the back of some healthy BIGSOUND attention, and her frankly amazing vocal phrasing is probably part of the reason. She played a solid slew of folk, offering acoustic versions of songs originally recorded alongside a full band, and I swear they sounded better here live. Also, she included a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic where she had a bit of fun with the sliding melody in the chorus. She’s not afraid to go all-in on hitting a note or vocal passage either, pulling expressions every which way to get there.

Skye’d approach is more subdued and flowing, her soft ballads confessional at times, but with an edge of self-assurance and purpose within. Friends With Feelings explores the experience of understanding one’s self: “There’s no black or white, but a whole lot of grey.” A Wergaia woman, Skye grapples with grasping and owning her identity on 60%, alluding to the constant uphill struggle to be ‘Indigenous enough’ to own that heritage.

As an artist, Thelma Plum expresses a truly complex experience, including the female experience, the Indigenous experience, and the bizarre skew that fame and art can place on those things. She walks an endlessly endearing tightrope: between vibrant extroversion and bouts of soul-revealing anxiety, her performance was more of an emotional experience than I’d have expected. Providing not just solid baroque pop, folk, and a spot of R’n’B, Plum also imbued each song with a narrative, whether it be a deserved take-down of the smug and socially comfortable during Woke Blokes, or the message of personal empowerment in Better in Black.

Unfortunately, Howler isn’t the kind of venue that allows for massive amounts of variety in a performance. You’re not afforded the DIY-esque intimacy of the Tote, nor is the space like The Forum, which has a sense of grandiosity. At times, it did start to feel a little samey – Plum’s band departed for a couple of solo tunes, which was a nice change of pace, but much of Plum’s presence could be expressed as sauntering back and forth, reserving much of her fantastic personality for the between-song banter.

In fact, the best material Plum had was actually the newest. Clumsy Love has an undeniable bounce, and the rest of the setlist shows a distinct progression in pop songwriting – it was tight and unified under Plum’s effortless vocal performance. “I am a woman now, I feel beautiful and I love myself,” she sang; the crowd agreed.