A smoky haze lingered in the spacious 133 year old Norwood Town Hall assumedly from the techs testing the smoke machine pre-show, ensuing a feeling of anticipatory nostalgia for the former Powderfinger front man, Bernard Fanning.
On this almost balmy Wednesday evening the slowly filling concert hall was a difficult task for the low key Ainslie Wills duo to open up. The excited audience were not willing to endure the melancholy songstress, their conversations unfortunately roaring above the drifting melodies. The restless crowd showed no sign of abating its banter as the Dustin Tebbutt duo ambled through their set. The electronic sound scapes produced by Tebbutt’s onstage collaborator, however, gave Tebbutt’s set enough breadth to fill the cavernous auditorium. A false start caused by a technical hitch and the lack of interesting shirts were the only flaws in an otherwise well-delivered performance.
Bernard Fanning, dressed in a non-assuming blue retro suit jacket and jeans showed the support acts how to reach past the Saturday morning attire. Topped with that familiar thick-set hair doo Fanning immediately commandeered the attention of the punters. A hush descended upon the room as he began his performance with a relaxed, down to earth greeting and the song Emerald Flame, the first off his new album, Civil Dusk.
From the word go there was little chance of Fanning losing the audience and his charm and wit between songs gave testament to his longevity in the Australian music scene. He shared tales of Powderfinger’s adventures in Adelaide in the early days and mused at his expectation of trestle tables in the Town Hall lined with freshly baked scones complements of the local lady’s guild.
Fanning’s well-crafted set list meant there was a surprise at every turn. From the intimate solo acoustic start, followed by a country-rock section including the new single Reckless, moving to almost gospel/soul feels of Not Finished Just Yet (Tea and Sympathy) and L.O.L.A (Civil Dusk), before sitting down at the keyboard Fanning kept the audience on its toes. The naughty kids at the back of the hall didn’t get the hinted ‘sssh’ whispered by Fanning at the start of Rush of Blood (Civil Dusk), which had boys from Fanning’s backing band (The Black Fins) gathering around a microphone near the front of the stage while multi-instrumentalist Sally Campbell put down the violin and reached for the deeper sounds of her viola.
Surprise was the only way to describe a rendition of Jet Airliner (Steve Miller Band) sung by the lead guitarist Andrew Morris. No one was there to see Morris, as good as he is, and certainly doing a middle of the road cover was an anomaly but, if that’s what Mr Fanning wants…but there was a moment I thought I was at Oktoberfest which also featured excellent but misplaced cover bands.
Any momentum lost was barely noticeable as Fanning sympathsised with the Adelaide audience regarding the statewide blackout experience a week or two earlier while chastising any politicians who used the incident to win points with the electorate. One aspect of Fanning’s writing that sets him apart from other song writers is his late entrance into a lyrical phrase, often beginning a line half way through a bar, reminiscent of John Wayne’s slow delivery. If you’re not sure who The Duke is, it doesn’t matter, just note that Fanning is a unique song writer who still has many brilliant years ahead of him and some great years already under his belt.
Finishing the set with a pseudo-encore of These Days mashed up with Prince’s Purple Rain demonstrated Fanning’s fearless approach to his art and a depth of performance that is bound to become deeper in years to come.
by James Hickey