Review By Mike Lockheart
For a moment you would have been forgiven for thinking the Adelaide Guitar Festival had kicked off uncharacteristically early, as in a stand alone 6-stringed masterclass, The Adelaide Festival Centre on Wednesday night hosted the South Australian stop of Tommy Emmanuel’s 2023 tour.
In support of his latest album, Accomplice Two, NSW’s very own ‘Certified Guitar Player’ (CGP) and Member of the Order of Australia, Emmanuel delighted a capacity crowd with thrills, laughs and emotion single handedly and with enough charm to pack a few Sydney Opera Houses over.
Supporting artist Anthony Snape first engaged the audience with his own affable charm and a soaring, soulful voice. Backed up by his own studio-precise guitar playing, his repertoire at once communicated Americana yet familiarly Aussie–country at the same time by way of mature pop songwriting.
Boasting an incredible range, Snape’s jaw-dropping vocal sustain reverberated through the hall whilst sounding present and focused. His main instrument, a custom acoustic that appeared as if dressed in disguise as an electric guitar, simultaneously rang bright acoustic notes, subtly accompanied by a delayed electric undertone - by way of a dual pick-up output. This had a mesmerising effect which elevated his simple one man set up to near arena-scale atmosphere and sound.
Anthony’s debut appearance in Adelaide was a chance to showcase a surprisingly familiar sounding repertoire, a suspicion that paid off once the singer-songwriter proclaimed that some of his work has been used in countless film and television productions. His support slot however was used as an opportunity to share his own personal career highlights, including the song that brought him and Tommy Emmanuel together; Frequency from his 2020 album Disappearing Day.
Short on airs or graces, Tommy cheerfully walked onto the stage following a short intermission. Guitar in hand he waved “Hello Adelaide”. The jovial energy that entered into the room with him very soon turned to a rollicking, energetic romp as the guitarist thrashed his worn Maton EBG808 guitar, communicating articulate poetry by means of carefully picked, complex arpeggios and percussive thumping.
Revealing that earlier in the day the show was in jeopardy due to canceled flight plans from Brisbane, the close call nonetheless allowed Tommy the time to take in some of Adelaide and reminisce about the special place it held for him and his family, and even that it was the location of his first Number 1 hit song.
The honky tonk barnstormer that followed was a thrill ride of lighting fast finger picking and chord changes, encapsulating the concept as coined by fellow virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai that Emmanuel embodies the bravissimo of Eddie Van Halen all the while conjuring Chet Atkins. An accurate and stirring statement.
Tommy’s legendary Beatles Medley was performed with the energy turned all the way up to 11, again mercilessly precise whilst feeling like an impromptu jam all the same - listeners couldn’t begin to guess what recognisable Lennon-Harrison motifs could ring out next. In summary an exhilarating part of the set, incorporating hints of Emmanuel’s calling card Classical Gas.
Venturing into more contemporary cuts from his discography was a performance of Doc Watson’s classic guitar piece Deep River Blues as interpreted by Emmanuel and performed on “Accomplice Two” with singer songwriter Jason Isbell. Gaining uproaring applause, Tommy faded from sight with a look of genuine joy on his face, ending the track with a wink.
Two of the most poignant moments in his performance were the performances of The Wide Ocean, a serene and truly poetic instrumental, written by Tommy but named by his then 3 year old Daughter and Song for a Rainy Morning. The latter penned in tribute to his late brother Phil Emmanuel who came to him in a dream whilst Tommy slept during a rainy night in Milan. This showcased what may be Tommy’s most remarkable talent, which is an ability to speak (not-literally) through his guitar. The emotion and history that is communicated onstage through him and his single instrument is in many ways much more than what words could ever do justice.
A truly sublime performance.