Australia’s population is easily united by large-scale events and entertainment, particularly in relation to sport and politics. However, it is not often that our country, separated by vastness of land, cultural differences, and generational divides comes together over a musical event. Mushroom 50 Live was one of these once-in-a-lifetime occasions. A transcendence of humanistic differences, 50 Songs for 50 Years bought together the best of this nation’s talent, both past and present – a culmination of 50+ years of musical greats.
Acting as Australia’s founding father for aspiring musicians, a deal with Mushroom Records is one of the hallmarks of commercial success. Founded in 1972 by the late Michael Gudinski, Mushroom’s legacy has continued on both a national, and international scale. The excitement that filled Rod Laver Arena as thousands of lucky fans, music industry professionals, family, and friends, took their seats is simply irreplicable. With a line-up comprised of multiple generations of artists, there was bound to be something for everyone.
Long-time member of the Mushroom family, and a household name, Jimmy Barnes, opened the night in true rock and roll fashion. Head to toe in leather, and pyrotechnics ablaze, Jimmy’s performance could not be faulted. Working the crowd as the rock icon he is, the energy was simply electric. As we were transported back to the 80s, long-time fans of the pub rock scene were given a moment to relieve their youth, whilst younger punters got a taste of what remains a legendary era of Aussie music. Powering through two of his hits, No Second Prize, and Working Class Man, 48 songs remained, and the bar was set astronomically high for the acts to follow.
Continuing the momentum, sisters Vika and Linda stole the hearts of the audience with their cover of Living in the 70s, the debut hit single from Mushroom’s own, Skyhooks. The pair’s angelic, ‘golden-age’ vocals paired with a jazz inspired musical arrangement created what was a uniquely surreal, cinematic feel. Stripping things back even further, Australian music sweetheart Missy Higgins gave a flawless performance of Wide Open Roads by The Triffids, which she had also re-recorded for the Mushroom 50 album. This set also bought with it a sublime 10-piece choir, whose performance in many of the evening’s acts was an absolute highlight. Treating fans to a familiar hit Scar, Missy had the room on their feet, swaying in gorgeous synchronicity, bonded by a shared love of music. The Rubens made a brief appearance, nailing their 2015 hit single Hoops. Flaunting the aesthetic of a highly polished garage band, The Rubens, are the epidemy of Aussie band music – and the foundation for many up-and-coming Melbourne indie rock bands.
The night at Mushroom 50 Live followed the ups and downs of moving through genres, and across eras from one song to the next; but what remained constant was a sense of family, and of celebration of life. Almost every artist who took to the stage, and every television host placed between acts could not help but to praise the beautiful character of Michael Gudinski. Michael founded Mushroom off his own passion for music, and for Australian artists the legacy he left for the industry is irreplaceable. Michael supported artists from all walks of life, regardless of their background. This became more and more evident as the night progressed, as we witnessed the stunning array of talent, all of whom were backed from the beginning by Mushroom Records.
A celebration of Australian music would not come close to complete without the inclusion of First Nations performers. Singing Australian anthems from the heart, Christine Anu gave a delightfully genuine rendition of My Island Home, sung from a pop-up stage at the back of the arena. Throughout the night this stage was turned to as a more intimate performance mode, away from the lights and cameras of the main spectacle. Goanna were up next, with their undeniable fan favourite, Solid Rock. The inclusion of Aboriginal instruments including digeridoo and clapsticks providing a feeling of authenticity and pride.
Many iconic acts graced the stage over the four-hour set, including Diesel, Ian Moss, Frente!, Deborah Conway, and Kate Ceberano. But the star-studded line-up had only just begun. The Temper Trap gave a strikingly poignant act, boldly choosing to perform two of the most recognisable tracks in Australian music history; Under the Milky Way by Australian rock band The Church, and their own smash hit Sweet Disposition. The sublime instrumentalism paired with an ethereal feeling backdrop of floating stars felt so out of place for an Aussie rock concert, yet was so perfectly received. An excited hum remained throughout the arena, as the crowd knew something special was still to come.
Closing out the first half was Aussie Icon Paul Kelly with his mega hit, Before Too Long, and a cover of The Sunnyboys’ Alone with You, joined by the band’s original guitarist Richard Burgman. The epic rock jams didn’t end there, as the First Nation’s band Yothu Yindi played their classic dance tracks Djapana and Treaty, embellished with flames, haphazardly flashing lights and the most intricate of rock instrumentals.
Beginning with a politically charged video compilation, the second half of the show dove deeper into the importance of messaging through music, and the influence of music icons on everyday people. Bliss n Eso put this message into practice with an emotional and moving rap set, alongside the ten-piece choir from earlier in the night. The phenomenally captivating stage presence didn’t end there, as international supergroup DMAs rocked audiences with their 2016 garage-band style single Lay Down. At first thought, viewers may have assumed 50 Songs for 50 Years was to deliver a few hit performances, alongside other ‘filler’ acts. However, these notions continued to be demolished by the incredible show of talent, all proudly Aussie-made. Household names including Machinations, Dan Sultan, The Teskey Brothers, Skyhooks, and Amy Shark left audiences wondering what final surprises were in store, as the catalogue of artists left on the bill grew smaller.
Birds of Tokyo were a personal standout, performing two of their international hits, Lanterns, and Good Lord, the arena was ignited – transformed from a glossy TV broadcast to an intimate early 2000s rock concert. The world class performance was breath-taking to experience, not only when viewing the stage, but after turning my head to the back of the arena, my eyes were met with the light of thousands of torches, glittering in the darkness like a magical sea of stars.
Mushroom 50 Live unfolded like a timeline. Fifty years of making noise, each decade equally represented – but now the time had come to hear from the future of the label. Recent signings including Logan, Wilson, and ‘Merci, Mercy’ gave performances worthy of international accolade. With such a solid foundation of music in this country, the sky is limitless for these young performers and their careers, and with backing from the best of the best, they are more than likely to become household names in the future.
As the star-studded evening comprised of live performance, and video cameos from the likes of Robbie Williams, Delta Goodrem, Vance Joy, Sam Smith, and Kylie Minogue came to a close, the nights successor Mark Seymour of Hunters and Collectors graced the stage. A digital duet of Aussie classic, Throw Your Arms Around Me, with none other than Ed Sheeran was adored by fans, but the finale Do You See What I See, truly took first prize. With the mighty revolving stage revealing the night’s band one final time, 2023’s biggest concert had come and gone. Left with nothing but rouge confetti in our hair, and wide smiles on our faces, it is safe to say all that attended Mushroom 50 Live have taken with them a sense of the ‘Mushroom family’. Closing the cover on the last 50 years of Australian music, and building a concrete and sacred foundation for musicians in the many decades to come.