SAN FRANCISCO — Riding a wave of success with smash hit “Dance Monkey,” pop singer-songwriter Toni Watson, better known as Tones and I, brought her first major U.S. tour to Popscene at the Rickshaw Stop Saturday. The Australian played songs from her debut EP, The Kids Are Coming., and brought a palpable energy to the stage, which concertgoers enthusiastically reciprocated.
She opened the set with piano ballad “Happy,” which showcased her amazing raw singing talent. Though she’s never taken a singing class—her experience is largely from busking on the street—her piped were powerful.
The night had many firsts, starting with Tones and I’s first show in San Francisco. Other firsts: San Francisco (and Alt 105 DJ Aaron Axelsen) was the first city that played “Dance Monkey” on the radio. It was also her first show to completely sell out.
That entire crowd seemed to be dancing together during dance number “Never Seen The Rain.” She then performed “Colourblind,” with some amazing looping prowess and the song transforming into a deep-house summer banger. It should be noted here that she was alone on stage—no band to provide support.
Ever the storyteller, Tones and I spoke about busking every day on the streets of Byron Bay in Australia and how she learned to communicate with audiences—and quickly capture people’ attention. Next, she moved on to recording covers and posting them on Youtube. Chet Faker’s “Drop The Game” was the first she she learned to play by looping samples. Live, this gorgeous downbeat song, which she performed at Popscene, sounded eerily like Amy Winehouse with some scatting and rich vocals.
There is an honesty to her performance that is rare to see. Tones and I let people into her world. On “You’re So Fucking Cool,” she sang about going to a fabulous L.A. party where no one spoke to anyone else. Hip-hop beats bounced atop laid-back keyboard playing.
“If you’re ever going to fan over me, don’t bring anyone down ever,” said Watson, who’s also an advocate against bullying, later in the show.
Watson wrote “Johnny Run Away,” her first single, for her best friend—who was at the show. Fans were singing along to every word and their hands in the air. A bouncy banger, the song was infectious and fun. She also gave Alphaville’s “Forever Young” new life. Her rendition, which played around with pace—slowing down only to speed it back up—was beautiful in its slow form. As it sped up, it became filled with hand-claps and calypso beats.
As expected, Tones and I saved “Dance Monkey” for the end of her set. The earworm was filled with keyboard hooks. Originally written for hostel guests in Byron Bay, it’s now breaking all kinds of records: topping records in Australia, where it’s gone triple-platinum; rising to the top spot of 16 countries, and accumulating 350 million streams and counting.
“Dance Monkey” is even more ridiculously fun in person. As Tones and I lied down on the stage, fans crouched down as well before rising to dance and jump around together.
Fellow Australians Lime Cordiale opened the set. The band’s music was an assortment of styles. “Naturally” brought funk along with a laid-back surf sound. “Dirt Cheap” was a reggae-infused tune. “Up In The Air” had a ’70s psychedelic rock vibe, with sweet melodies by brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach, who also said they were ready to move to San Francisco.