I suspect that the motivation behind any artist, but especially musicians perhaps, is to make the audience feel something. Feel anything. To feel differently for having experienced their art. Well, Icehouse’s return to Brisbane on Saturday night certainly did that for me. Though the band frequently tour Australia extensively, including just recently in 2022, this “Great Southern Land – The Concert Series show” was my first live encounter with them. Being an eighties baby, I grew up knowing and loving their songs… but that was a long time ago. What a relief and absolute joy to realise that this chart topping, platinum selling musical force can still hold their own, and then some. Joining them as special guests on the RiverStage were Eskimo Joe and Karen Lee Andrews.
Though traffic carnage brought about by another concert (cough: Ed Sheeran) meant I missed Karen’s set, there is no doubt her soulful, chilled vocals and guitar playing would have mixed well with pre-drinks on the lawn as the sun went down. Her four-piece band are known as some of the hardest working in the industry and I will make it my business to seek out the Polynesian singer’s classical blues rock show in future.
The 6-piece Freemantle act, Eskimo Joe are next on stage. It’s been several years since the ARIA award-winning band has released an album (their latest, a live recording in collaboration with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra), but their choice as support for Icehouse simply makes sense. They burst on to stage, vocalist and front man Kavyen Temperley donning a white suit coat and slicked back hair, channelling Elvis perhaps. Initially, there are some sound issues making the lyrics and melodies less clear than punters may have liked. Their set is started with Sarah off the Black Fingernails, Red Wine album. This is followed by New York. Despite being released as the third single from this same album, Temperley explains New York was really the first to result from their early planning of acoustic songs. Understandably, bands must walk a fine line when touring, never wanting to sound exactly like the studio press, but the start of this one is almost unrecognisable. In Older Than You from the band’s second album, A Song Is a City, a disproportionate focus upon the heavy beats doesn’t quite allow the beauty of the melody to be captured. Indeed, given the unquestionable skill the band have as writers, I felt it wasn’t until quite late in the set that the sound properly represented this skill. The haunting piano solo introduces Echo next, before London Bombs continues the slower pace. This one was written in Cairns Temperley tell us. The unmistakeable sounds of (recorded) bagpipes welcome Foreign land from the album Inshalla. It is obviously a favourite for the band, each clearly relishing the moment, but paying particular homage to drummer, Joel Quartermain.
The band comically shout out to the ‘expensive plastic seat’ section at this point, hinting that- while they won’t force anyone up off their seats- this group have a strong responsibility to set the vibe for the evening. Next up is Setting Sun which featured in the 2011 film The Last Song, rumoured to be the scene for the beginning of Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworths’ off-screen romance. The band dedicate the song to Miley who is, they suggest, practically an Aussie citizen now. Like the lyrics in this one, the predominantly ‘older’ audience, clearly know and understand they’re “forever young”, partying in strong numbers at Brisbane’s Riverstage. Who Sold Her Out follows next. Temperley describes an intense pressure to produce a second song -one packageable as a single - for their debut album. Determined not to ‘sell out’, the band explain this one was actually written far earlier but released in response to this pressure and to the threat of the label pulling the album. Black Fingernails, Red Wine is up next – the song the band attributes to changing their lives forever. Here too I perhaps would have liked the vocals and piano to been better accentuated but the powerful crescendos and cuts and unparalleled lyrics see the audience get amongst it.
Like us, Temperley explains he is starting to get very excited to see Icehouse, an act they refer to as one of Australia’s best ever. He describes growing up listening to Icehouse, being mesmerised by their mysterious sound. The set ends with From the Sea, undoubtedly their best adaptation of the night. The near-incomprehensible skills of drummer, Joel Quartermain, are again showcased before From the Sea is extended. Punters clap and sing along. All in all, this act has solidified its position as an Australian tour de force but should “the world repeat itself somehow”, and I get the chance to see them again, I hope the sound technicians can better present Eskimo Joe and all their talent. There is a full 30-minute interlude between Eskimo Joe and Icehouse but watching the amazing roadies work, there is no doubt that every minute was required.
Until Icehouse’s set, visuals were quite minimal, but the headliners start the show, fittingly, with a visual acknowledgement of country. Let us hope this is a sign that this Great Southern Land continues to grow and learn. With the stage still otherwise dark, audiences are awoken first with the sounds of an isolated synthesiser, then single piano notes and finally, drums. It is obvious immediately that any sound issues are now behind us ….. and that we are in for a night of astounding music. Icehouse start with their namesake track – ironically, released when they were instead known as The Flowers. The crowd clap along and enjoy the stylistic and ultra-modern visuals. Uniform from the Primitive Man album is up next before Fatman, both of which evoke (pleasing) New Order memories. And then they played… Electric Blue, possibly their most successful song charting at number one in Australia, as well as in the top ten in both New Zealand and the United States. While we all know the track, Icehouse cleverly accentuate both the guitar and sax solos within, allowing Paul Gildea (rhythm guitar) and Hugo Lee (saxophone) to stun with their exceptional talent.
After four decades of music making, the band hold countless accolades. Beyond the official titles and awards though, one of their chief accomplishments has been as frontrunners in extending the use of the synthesiser beyond dance tracks. Hey Little Girl, their next song for the night, is one such example. It is hauntingly beautiful and allows Iva to show off his voice – a voice that miraculously appears to have gone unchanged for forty years. In Mr Big, off their 1986 Measure for Measure album, the instrumental and experimental bridge translates well to the big stage, and again reminds us just how ahead of their time this Australian band has always been. Soon enough, Iva looks to be introducing his band members – many of which have changed over the years- but he doesn’t, instead suggesting that “to the left of me… and to the right are …….humans. A little touched perhaps. A little mad”. Nice way to introduce Crazy, the next track and next most successful commercial tune for them - also hitting top ten in Oz, NZ and the states. During Crazy, old footage of the original videoclip is run, including what has to be Australia’s best mullet and one that even I might forgive. What an odd sensation for Iva and original crew, I remember thinking. But while they may look up and not recognise themselves, the punters certainly recognise and love this one- perfectly joining Iva in the vocals when encouraged. Despite being a slow song, it is No Promises and the synthesiser specifically that gets me out of my seat for the first time. Hugo Lee’s saxophone solo keeps me there and I find myself even involuntarily screaming for more. Michael Paynter next returns to the stage to lend vocals for Touch the Fire.
Though the night had many highlights, for me, it was the quiet acoustic version of A Man of Colours, the title track from their fifth studio album, that I will remember forever. I’m not an emotional person by nature. Not someone who cries a lot …but I can say without hyperbole that the song was so incredibly beautiful and powerful that I was choking back many tears. Iva brings out the Oboe towards the end and saxophonist, Lee, takes us on another journey. This really was something special. Love in Motion comes on next quickening the pace and allowing me to get my boogie on.
In a surprise move, Great Southern Land – Australia’s unofficial anthem is not last or even an encore but next on the set. In introducing it, Gildea thanks Iva, suggesting none of them would ‘be here’, like all the songs, without him. Despite turning 40 this year, Great Southern Land, continues to thrill audiences, as does the next one, I Can’t Help Myself. The band relish the ongoing applause enticing us to be louder again – louder perhaps than Ed Sheeran’s crowd just kilometres down the road? The last song (or so they tell us) is We Can Get Together with Temperley from Eskimo Joe returning to join the band.
First encore is a cover of Marseilles by The Angels, a band we’re told Icehouse used to support for and for whom they continue to have great respect. Here all members clearly rock out enjoying the moment and pay tribute to the pianist specifically. It’s a pity at times – I recall thinking – that unlike Jazz gigs where solos are applauded mid song, often solos of this nature appear to go unnoticed. They certainly were not though and the pianist, like the drummer and saxophonist all deserve special mention here. The band end the night with Nothing Too Serious, the lyrics of which can’t help but make me laugh. While I was not wearing an Icehouse T-shirt on Saturday night, I swear one in five punters were. Though the shirts, like the punters themselves perhaps, may be a little ‘warn around the edges’, they were certainly ready to party and not going home disappointed. Thank you Icehouse. Thank you for making me catch some feelings.