There is a standing joke in my house involving Del Amitri. If guests are coming around for dinner, my husband will say, “time to put Del Amitri on”. They are always my dinner party music of choice. Why – it is perfect for that – inoffensive in lyrics and musical style, upbeat melodies and just perfect background music. That doesn’t sound like a band that I would put on in my head phones and listen to deeply but I do that too. And when you listen deeply, Del Amitri is actually the antithesis of everything I like, musically. First and foremost, it is borderline country. Country music makes my skin crawl. Harmonicas, steel and slide guitars and wiggly wiggly organs (played with high vibrato) will send me running to the hills (running for my life, even). And if you listen to the opening verse and chorus of Del Amitri’s Kiss This Thing Goodbye, and other songs, that’s exactly what you’ve got. So why are Del Amitri so dang likeable?
There is no better way to get excited for a gig than by finding a pub where other fans might congregate. The proximity of The Cross Scottish themed bar in Fitzroy Street to the Palais seemed a sure bet and sure enough, the tables were full to bursting with expat Scots, enjoying Steak Night and a pint of Tenants (piss weak Scottish beer) before the show. There was a real sense of excitement in the air, after all, Del Amitri have not visited these shores for 30 years.
The Palais is the perfect venue for bands whose music can be enjoyed perfectly from the comfort of one’s arse. The seating is probably as antique as the building and is prone to being lumpy and a wee bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours but on Thursday as the support act, Darren Middleton came on, all assembled were making themselves comfortable and settled in for some listening pleasure. The name meant nothing to me at first. The music from him and another guitarist/keyboard player and a drummer was very much in the right vein for the evening…pleasant and easy on the ears. After couple of tracks, he mentioned that he had written songs for Bradley Cooper to sing in A Star is Born! Hang On, who is this guy. All became clear when he dropped another big name….Powderfinger. Darren Middleton is none other than lead guitarist and songwriter for the hugely successful Aussie band of the 2000’s. Now he had my attention. I missed Powderfinger’s entire career, pretty much and if it weren’t for my sister sending me a Triple J top 100 CD every year, and picking up a copy of Vulture Street in a Tower Records bargain bin, I would never have heard of them. Darren’s solo work lacks a bit of the spice of Powderfinger, but I felt the presence of singer songwriters who have gone before such as Neil Young, who Middleton lists as an influence and you could tell.
2023 Del Amitri consists of just two of the original band members who started playing together in 1982, Justin Currie on bass and lead vocals, and Iain Harvie on guitar and backing vocals. And these two make some really beautiful harmonies together, at times, sounding Eaglesque. They opened with When You Were Young which seemed appropriate for a band of 50 somethings to be playing to a crowd of fellow Gen Xers. Undoubtedly looking older, but still sporting a very fine head of hair, Justin’s voice has lost none of the range and beautiful tone that is such a part of this band’s success.
Del Amitri’s second album, Waking Hours of 1989 and Change Everything of 1992 spawned their biggest hits, the first played tonight was Always the Last to Know. This song opens with the most heinous musical crime there is (in my humble opinion) – COWBELLS! But once you get over this it is a song, like so many of this bands, that tells a great story and brought a few “wee wiman” in the crowd to their feet.
They were powering through this set at breakneck speed. There was very little patter in between songs which was a bit of a shame and I think the crowd would have loved a bit of banter. He did manage a “Is it supposed to be this hot?” Thursday was a bit of a scorcher but you will come to Australia in February so Aye, it is supposed to be this hot.
The wonderfully upbeat Kiss This Thing Goodbye was greeted with a loud cheer from the audience. The song begins with the harmonica, again, walking a very slippery slope between pop and country, but again, still managing to be inoffensive to my sensitive ears. The next hit out of the box was the wonderfully moody and even a little bit sad Driving with the Brakes On. One of my faves.
After a set of 18 tracks, more hits than misses, the main set drew to a close with the wonderfully philosophical Spit in the Rain and Stone Cold Sober.
The message that more was expected was very clearly sent as the crowd, now on their feet, showed their appreciation and begged for more.
A 5 song encore ensued. It was always a given that this would include their biggest hit and one of the best pieces of lyrical story telling I have ever heard, Nothing Ever Happens. This song speaks of the repetitiveness of an ordinary life and it always makes me think of my Mother in Law who worked in the tax office as a typist for over 30 years.
Scotland is my second home, having spent all of the 90’s and most of the naughties living in Glasgow and I feel as proud as any Scotsman when I see “home” grown talent do well internationally. Del Amitri have been appreciated by more than homesick Scots in Australia since they first toured here in 1990 but I fear that this may well have been the bands’ Australian swan song. I am grateful to have felt the swell of affection for the band in Glasgow when they could be heard on the juke box of every student pub and University union on the west coast. And I’m grateful to have seen them grace the stage of the Palais on a balmy summer’s night in Melbourne, 30 years later.