Dream Setlist: Vance Joy

Dream Setlist: Vance Joy


It’s our pleasure to introduce the latest recurring feature here at RPM: Dream Setlist. Once a week, a writer will set out to craft their ideal concert setlist from an artist of their choosing: the songs, the order they’re played in, the venue, and everything in between. To kick it off, Al Pash takes us to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, CO, where Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy is about to grace the stage. Join Al as she’s carefully curated her favorite Vance Joy tunes for what’s sure to be an unforgettable evening. Shh--I think the show’s about to start…

In the early fall of 2013 the indie music community was graced by the arrival of one of Australia’s biggest successes of the decade: James Keogh--better known by his moniker, Vance Joy. I remember sitting in my college dorm room, the first week of Freshman year, 3,000 miles away from home. Feeling isolated, I turned to Spotify for a comforting afternoon jam--it was then that I heard that famous riff for the first time: the Am-C-G progression strummed gleefully over a ukulele. The song was “Riptide,” the little ditty that launched Vance Joy to international superstardom. I was immediately mesmerized by the choppy-vibrato and zany lyrics, and thus began my infatuation with Vance’s music. For this week’s Dream Setlist, let the uniquely powerful landscape of the Red Rocks Amphitheater host an evening of Aussie energy. Overhead, Edison bulbs decorate the sky, creating a ceiling of light, preparing us for the privilege of what’s in store. The lights slowly dim, and shadowed figures begin to grace the stage. A thunderous bass drum builds us and leads us into…

1. Fire and the Flood

Vance has often used this song as a show’s closer, which is understandable. The crying horns during the chorus make the song especially explosive; rather than ending, I think it’s the perfect way to open the set.


2. Wasted Time

The intro starts with the familiar finger-picked arpeggio, used in many Vance Joy tunes, which makes this tune instantly recognizable. The bridge that professes, “the feelings i used to have, they’re changing, they’re changing now” is so full of longing desperation, inviting the audience to join together in a heartfelt moment. This lyric  stands out as one of my favorite moments in Vance’s set--there’s just something about the rawness of his realization that unifies the crowd, guiding us deeper into the show.

Vance Joy - "Wasted Time" [Live From Sing Sing Studios]


3. Saturday Sun

This one marks the introduction of the instrument Vance is perhaps most known for: the ukulele. When that first chord hits, the audience’s initial reaction is to think of “Riptide”, but no way it’s that early in the set. Rather, accompanying the chord progression is the unmistakable opening refrain: “Ohh, Saturday sun…I met someone.” I think it is important for an artist to start strong with their first few tunes. You know, building the energy sets the tone for the evening, which electrifies the crowd--and thus is reflected back to the performer. This cyclical pattern is what keeps the momentum driving through the performance.


4. Take Your Time

A favorite off Vance’s second full-length studio Album, Nation of Two, this one reins in the tempo for a slight breather from the foot-stomping rhythm we generated at the start of the show. The softly sung verses transition into delicate choruses, eventually gaining speed into the bridge crying “and you know my heart, well its waiting for your call.” We see this commonality in the structure of many tracks by Vance. Critics will say it’s overused, but I think they’re wrong: the transparency of the songwriting only strengthens the authenticity of Vance’s sound.


5. Call If You Need Me

The opening songs have saturated the rocky landscape with deeper crimson, and now we need some time to float in this manifested atmosphere. This tune is the perfect mood-setter, as fans will immediately recognize the acoustic strums and associate them with the intimate music video he released last year. It’s set in black and white, slowly moving Vance closer into the frame, his gentle disposition capturing our attention, melting our hearts.

Vance Joy - Call If You Need Me [Official Video]


6. Great Summer

This song was orignally composed for the soundtrack of the film Paper Towns, and the only live footage was shot at the Atlantic Records Livestream premier for the film. When this track was released, it immediately captured me. The melody of the electric piano that introduces the song sounds exactly like what the title conveys – a “great summer.” The lyrics adeptly describe the emotion that the instrumentation elicits, which segues nicely into…


7. Straight Into Your Arms

This is another underrated track in Vance’s discography. The electronic, percussive elements contrast with the acoustic guitar, which is not a common occurrence in his other work. It also maintains a steady lounge-like feel, which I find relaxing and vibe-worthy – a perfect tune to dote upon.

Vance Joy - Straight Into Your Arms [Official Video]


8. First Time

Aside from the EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, the tracks off Dream Your Life Away hold the most special, irreplaceable spot in my heart. For this reason exactly, the second half of the setlist will be heavily weighted with tunes from Vance’s first two releases. “First Time” opens with the same strumming pattern as “Riptide,” however the chord progression is different, again making for a recognizable sound, with a hint of novelty. The lyrical content again reflects the emotional response to the music. To me, the ability to convey an idea through sounds is the ultimate goal for any artist. This tune builds the excited anticipation surrounding one of the most natural human experiences: losing your virginity. It drives the set with its fast tempo, and will get the crowd dancing in contemplation of their own “first times.”


9. Play With Fire

Immediately as this tune sounds, my soul begins to sing. It is sonically lighthearted, while still driving a message of frustration regarding nuances and obstacles faced in new relationships.  This was the third track off Vance’s debut EP, and has deeply embedded itself in my mind. I’ve resonated with this track for some time now (6 years to be exact) and I welcome it as dear old friend at every listened opportunity.

Vance Joy - Play With Fire


10. Emmylou

Now we are really getting into the good shit. Not a jab at the previous tunes, but songs like this one and the ones to come have me anchored deep in Vance’s musical sea. This tune is slow, and somber sounding, but paints a beautiful image of parental figures providing comfort to their children. Even with this depressing sonic, the contrasting message cuts the meat from my bones; a heartbreaking comfort.


11. Best That I Can

Another classic tune from the first full length album, that leaves me with a desire to perform. Once a song that was belted lonesomely in my kitchen, now a chorus of passionate fans, belting the lyrics, “I am, I am trying, the best that I can.” There is something unifying about this piece, and makes for a great addition to the live stage.

Source: vancejoy.com

Source: vancejoy.com


12. I’m With You

With the release of Nation of Two, the three all-start tracks in my opinion was “Call if You Need Me”, “Take Your Time”, and “I’m With You.” They all have similar vibes, but these lyrics make my eyes damp. If your heart hasn’t already fallen for James (Vance Joy), the lyrics and sincerity in his voice will swoon and serenade you. This tune puts me on an Australian beach, making acquaintance with Love, watching a storm roll in. Cool air sneaking under the blanket wrapped around our backs – a constant reminder that we are alive in that moment, together.


13. Red Eye

This song compliments the development of its predecessor, as it depicts the uncertainties and longing of a long-distance relationship. While “I’m With You” is a sentiment for falling in love, “Red Eye” fast forwards to another stage in a relationship. The chorus brings up the tempo, guiding us into the last leg of our set.


14. Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Cover)

Hey, it’s my setlist, so I’d like to propose a cover Vance hasn’t sung live. In fact, I don’t know if he’s ever sang it….but a girl can dream, right?! The original tune by Cyndi Lauper translates so beautifully in the male register. With James’ unique vibrato and indie rasp, I hear this being an amazing rendition. I am partial to ’80s girl jams, nonetheless, this would be such a fun tune to hear him sing!


15. Mess is Mine

Closing the main set with one of Vance’s most well-received singles, “Mess is Mine” only feels like the natural decision. The guitar riff that loops throughout the song catalyzes a volcanic eruption from the crowd. This reaction follows suite with every time I’ve heard it performed live. Second to “Riptide”, this tune holds a record of 252,070,117 Spotify streams, making it a song that is both recognizable and singable; key factors for a closing tune.

Vance Joy - "Mess is Mine" [Official Video]




16. From Afar

The encore setlist is incredibly subjective, as I am partial to these final three songs. The music video for this tune reflects a triangle of unrequited love. At the time this song was released, I too was experiencing my own dose of unrequited love. The line “ah that’s just not the way that friends behave, oh no no no.” Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is another universal human experience that Vance so perfectly conveys with this track. There is a special moment in time when a song transitions from being something you sing, to something you feel, to something that will never escape you. This is one of those songs for me, and there wouldn’t be any other way I would like to welcome Vance back on stage to close out his show.

Vance Joy - 'From Afar' Official Video


17. Snaggletooth

Although I previously expressed a similar sentiment with other songs, Snaggletooth is a song that has forever left its mark on me. The slow transition between the C chord and Em strangles my heart. I can feel the pull in my chest, and knot in my throat. It causes pain, but there is something masochistic about letting your heart sit with uneasy emotions. Music is an outlet for emotional expression, and when you can find a piece that moves you so viciously, you become addicted to this controlled self-infliction. It’s almost as if you can find solace in this fabricated suffering. You can try it on like a summer dress, letting the lace dance across your thighs, enticing every thought to surface your conscious.  Walking around in these emotions lets us feel what we need to feel, without any major external consequences. The profession “and i must have cried when I held those hands, so do you know what I mean, do you know how I feel, oh do you know what I mean”- absolutely debilitating.

Source: vancejoy.com

18. Georgia

It’s may be seen as unconventional to place two slow-paced songs back-to-back, but this encore consists of my All-Time-Favorites, bearing in mind the emotions I want to be left with when the house lights turn on. “Georgia”, the third most streamed song consists of what I believe to be the most musically brilliant melodies in Vance’s entire discography. I am confident that the majority of fans would agree with me on this. James talks about writing this tune on New Year’s Day, and knowing immediately that he had captured something extremely special. For the last year I’ve woken up to this song, as I needed something delicate to welcome me into each new day, so if you are looking for a new alarm tone, I highly recommend. Being that I am able to craft this experience to my liking, I would want the music video projected on the video wall behind him. During the bridge of this song, two men are seen sharing a delicate kiss, another underrepresented experience that Vance respectfully highlights throughout his music. The beauty of this tune is almost crippling.

Vance Joy - Georgia [Official Video]


19. Riptide

Is it too obvious? Ah, who am I kidding. There is a reason this tune won Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2013. I’d like to avoid being that conceited hipster that says “I found this song before it got big”; however, I am convinced, and will forever tell myself that I found this tune before it even found the world. My affection for this song was instantaneous, guaranteeing and immediate obsession. The quirky lyrics and lighthearted ukulele makes this the ultimate sun-kissed, Aussie jam. It would be juvenile to end this show any other way. 

Vance Joy - 'Riptide' Official Video



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