Writing by Ella Katz
In the cold Friday evening air, night-lifers flooded Swanston St as I fought my way downstream to Yazmin Lacey’s gig at Max Watts, brought to us by RISING.
The venue has a cavernous mosh-pit and a no-frills stage. It’s the sort of place that isn’t polished enough to be nice and isn’t grimy enough to be ironically cool. Everyone is gathered for the music and the music only.
That was certainly the case when I walked down the stairs just before Yazmin Lacey’s set began. The place was brimming with ready bodies and expectant chatter. Heads nodded and feet tapped when Lacey’s band took the stage to play the first few bars before the singer’s entrance.
Music as a religious experience – it’s a tired archetype. But when it comes to Yazmin Lacey’s soulful voice and healing lyrics, it’s a difficult one to avoid.
Lacey’s sound has comforted me through life’s unfolding chapters – birthdays and breakups and everything in between. A few years ago, a friend (who shares my love for that sweet spot between jazz and soul) shared with me Lacey’s punchy, trumpet-heavy track Morning Matters. Today, as I lean towards a sound that’s moodier and layered, Lacey’s evolution is on a similar trajectory.
As Lacey stepped onto the stage, the crowd cheered long and loud. Lacey wore a denim co-ord, her braids long, her jewellery gold. White wine in hand, she was at-home on stage. Lacey chuckled in a way that made me think she genuinely didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The first smooth chords of Bad Company played, and the worship began.
There’s an incredible effortlessness to Lacey’s voice – it’s both ethereal and strong. It’s relaxed (almost conversational), but there’s also a deep sense of command behind it. Sarah Tandy, Lacey’s keyboardist, sat behind a two-tier setup and gave us organ-like chords, twisting with groove melodies. Lacey’s vocals playfully interlocked with Tandy’s keys, and together, they created a full sound. This dynamic drove the music through the night.
As she sang, Lacey’s image was broadcast onto two screens that bookended the stage. Layers of light reverberated around her pixelated face, offering a digital-Virgin-Mary-esque portrait of the singer.
Lacey’s set-list was mostly drawn from her 2023 album Voice Notes, while also dipping into older favourites. Her 2023 sound is jazzier, more rhythmically complex, and in the very best way – looser. Lacey’s lyrics, however, have maintained their essence of intimate self-reflection and exploration.
Lacey told us the story of one hungover morning, when she got chatting with a stranger at a bus stop. The two shared stories and wisdom, and from the encounter, Lacey crafted Voice Notes’ most buoyant track – Fool’s Gold.
Throughout the night, Lacey’s sound wove its way through jazz, soul, RnB and dreampop, finally landing in funk with her track Sign and Signal. It was towards the end of the night that the crowd had loosened up and wine had rounded the edges of self-consciousness – real dancing ensued.
The thing about anything other-worldly (be it religion or Yazmin Lacey’s voice) is that it requires a delicate microcosm of believers to sustain it. The fragility of my little religious experience became clear after Lacey’s set finished when I found myself sandwiched between two young guys in bathroom stalls next to me, discussing the pros and cons of their Hinge dates for a coke hook-up.
The bubble of whimsical, soulful listening that Lacey provides may be easily burst, but it’s also easily returned to – something I look forward to continuing to do for many more years.