Festival Review: 1967: Music In The Key Of Yes 

Commemorating 50 years since the referendum that amended our constitution to remove discrimination against Aboriginal peoples, 1967 assembled a cast of talented young indigenous performers to celebrate the milestone.

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Presented by Secret Chord
Reviewed on 15 March 2017

Commemorating 50 years since the referendum that amended our constitution to remove discrimination against Aboriginal peoples, 1967 assembled a cast of talented young indigenous performers (and, weirdly, “special guest” Adalita from Magic Dirt) to celebrate the milestone. If there was a purpose beyond this – to give greater context or comment on continuing institutional racism – it was not discernible, either in the musical choices or the video projections that accompanied the performance.

The music included iconic Australian songs from the last 30 years along with original tracks by the performers and American civil rights-era soul songs that were contemporary anthems.

After an introduction to country, Yolngu musician Yirrmal opened the show with a stunning performance, his voice ringing out in the Festival Theatre before the very white backing band came in for ‘My Island Home’. Harking back to Warumpi Band’s original rather than Christine Anu’s better-know cover, it sounded unnecessarily cluttered before the band toned it down for Radical Son’s stirring version of ‘Took The Children Away’.

Adalita took centre stage to pay tribute to fellow Geelong rockers Goanna with ‘Solid Rock’ accompanied by William Barton’s driving yidaki before a visibly agitated Dan Sultan came on. Grossly misjudging the crowd, he appeared drunk as he harangued the seated Festival Theatre audience for not making enough noise during, before and after several songs, a theme that would continue every time he appeared.

As he left the stage, one of the biggest cheers of the night greeted Ursula Yovich and her huge, powerful voice held us captivated as she performed a slinky cover of Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free’.

Following this was Yirrmal’s ‘Deep Blue Sea’, his soaring, emotion-filled voice imbuing it with a homesick longing that echoed the original ‘My Island Home’, and there is no doubt that he was the star of the night.

Though it didn’t appear in the program, a version of ‘We The People (Who Are Darker Than Blue)’ added a funky swagger before ‘Blackfella, Whitefella’ was introduced with a solo vocal and piano that fell flat and led to a weird jazz fusion break. When that ended and the song finally started to rock, though, all of the performers came onstage to sing the chorus and the audience took the chance to “stand up and be counted”.

This still wasn’t good enough for Dan Sultan, who was joined by Adalita for a Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody duet (though not the one most people would expect), before another highlight, the menacing version of The Oil’s ‘Dead Heart’. Oddly accompanied by ominous footage of the Tiananmen Square protests and Stalin statues being toppled, it once again brought all of the performers onstage and they stayed for ‘Treaty’. Yirrmal once again stole the show, the grandson of the late Dr. Yunupingu dancing around the stage as his clear voice rang out and he seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were.

The program listed four more songs, so it was clear there would be an encore and a Joe Cocker-influenced version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was followed by a very straight cover of ‘Blackbird’ before the show ended the way it had started, with Yirrmal’s beautiful voice washing over us.

The sentiment of 1967 was admirable but the music was mixed, the message was garbled if it did exist and one couldn’t help feeling that this would have been better staged as an inclusive free twilight concert rather than a ticketed event.

Reviewed by Alexis Buxton-Collins

One night only – Season ended

 

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