Thebarton Theatre, March 8.
When you combine one of the most prolific American composers of the last century, the frontman of one of Australia’s most iconic bands and an eclectic, rising pop chanteuse, the result is a truly magnificent night of music.
For those too young to know the legacy of Van Dyke Parks, the 70 year old man is a songwriter, composer, and performer in his own right. Having worked with the Beach Boys, Rufus Wainwright, Ringo Starr and our own Silverchair, Van Dyke chose the Adelaide Festival as the setting to take us through a unique, retrospective journey of his life and work. Joining him onstage was Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns, one of the most well-known and creative figures in Australian music, and art-pop princess Kimbra, known for her inventive, jazz-tinged debut album Vows as well as her guest feature on Gotye’s megahit, ‘Somebody I Used To Know’. Also gracing the stage was the Adelaide Art Orchestra, masterfully conducted by Timothy Sexton.
Van Dyke performed with a vigor beyond his years; singing, playing piano, and even leading the orchestra himself for the first few numbers. The songs were all gorgeous, whimsical pieces, as he picked from his own vast catalogue of songs, 18th century pieces, and even songs from the Popeye soundtrack. Between songs, Van Dyke engaged the audience with banter that was heartfelt, witty, and bordering on poetic, as he told tales of his childhood and adult life in America.
The night was a seamless mix of old and new. Van Dyke’s traditional sensibilities and the timeless prowess of the orchestra worked surprisingly well with the youthful deliveries of his two guest stars. This was none more evident than when Van Dyke left the stage for Kimbra and Daniel Johns to duet on a selection of Silverchair songs, composed by Parks himself. The orchestra and Johns’ guitar mixed well, with ‘If You Keep Losing Sleep’ a definitely highlight.
His guest stars came on- and off-stage as needed; Van Dyke sang many of his songs alone, and was more than capable of holding the audience’s attention on his own. However, it was when Kimbra and Johns were onstage that magic truly happened. Daniel Johns brought an electric energy to the stage, and Kimbra was a force of nature, showing off her rarely-used, husky lower register as well as her undeniable high register, the latter of which imbued the songs with a Disney-like sense of wonder. The three had magnificent chemistry, and the love between them, and between Van Dyke and the audience, was palpable. Everyone in the room was thoroughly enjoying themselves, and the performers were happy and honoured to be there.
None moreso than Van Dyke Parks himself. He shared many kind words about our fair city while onstage, and paid tribute to us by performing “I Still Call Australia Home” on piano during the encore. It’s safe to say Adelaide will welcome back this accomplished musician with open arms if he wishes to come back.