YOU couldn’t wipe the smile off Jack River’s face on Wednesday night at the Cambridge Hotel.
The last time the 26-year-old performed in Newcastle in 2012 she was on the Lass O’Gowrie’s nondescript stage performing under her real name Holly Rankin with the band Desire The Horse.
Fast forward six years and Jack River is a fully-formed star on the rise armed with a debut album in Sugar Mountain that features some of the best indie power-pop you’re likely to hear in 2018.
“This is pretty much my hometown show,” the Forster-bred River told the sold-out crowd that included her parents David and Donna.
River also later explained a close family connection to the Cambridge as her parents went on their first date at the venue 35 years ago.
The gig swelled with the energy of a triumphant homecoming. River took several peeks from backstage with a cup of tea in hand as the rowdy crowd’s volume rose in anticipation.
They came to sing and they broke into full voice when River and her four bandmates, which included Cessnock-bred drummer Tom Myers, opened with her teen prom anthem Ballroom.
River appeared genuinely shocked by the enthusiasm, which almost drowned out her vocal. The band were dressed in white jeans and silk shirts, while River stood out in her sparkly body suit and glittery eye shadow.
There was a slight detour through her older songs Palo Alto and Talk Like That before she returned to the peaks of Sugar Mountain.
By the time River reached the infectious chorus of the pop-folk flavoured Limo Song it became obvious we were watching a master pop songsmith at play.
River has that innate ability to write epic late ’90s-style pop choruses like No Doubt and Wheatus with touches of modern synth pop, folk, and even, country.
Those folk and country elements were on display during her most contemplative song, In Infinity, which she explained was “written in the darkest time of my life.” A reference to the aftermath of her 11-year-old sister Shannon’s death in 2006.
The pop hooks continued with Confess and Fault Line before River left no question about where her influences reside by performing a soaring cover of one-hit wonder Tal Bachman’s 1999 smash She’s So High.
For the finale River showed she’s just as capable of penning a pop classic as Bachman by delivering Fool’s Gold. It’s undoubtedly her most powerful song, again complete with a soaring chorus.
Jack River is no fool’s gold. She’s the real deal.