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Gig ReviewsReviews

[Review] Jack Johnson @ Brisbane Rivestage, Brisbane 3/12/2022

“It seems to me that maybe”….. I should start calling myself a Jack Johnson fan.  I’m embarrassed to say that prior to Saturday’s Brisbane show, I’d never seen the American singer-songwriter before. I’m embarrassed to say that, had someone asked me to name five of his songs, I would probably have struggled.  And yet, during Jack’s near two-hour long set, it was odd to realise that there were few songs I didn’t know the words to. This perhaps best speaks to the power of this artistic juggernaut.  While Jack could boast (unlikely) of his multiple Grammy nominations, his worldwide fandom or of his millions upon millions of views on the socials, to experience that kind of reach – where your songs actually become part of common, even unconscious, vernacular, is hard to imagine.  Fortunately for us, Jack’s lyrics typically preach life and love, including a love for our environment. For more than a decade now his record label (Brushfire Records) and touring crew have worked towards ‘greening’ the music industry by expanding eco-friendly touring practices and promoting sustainable food and plastic free initiatives.  To celebrate his eighth studio album, Meet the Moonlight, the surfer-turned musician played five Australian shows: all outdoors and under said moonlight. On the Brisbane leg Jack was supported by none other than Ziggy Alberts and Indigenous newcomer Emily Wurramara, both of whom returned to the stage later to join the headliner.

To suggest that there was ‘standing room only’ by the time Jack came on is a huge understatement.  It was obvious people had gotten there early, laid down their picnic blankets and settled in to watch the sunset. Brisbane had put on quite the sunny summer afternoon for us too which meant punters were very happy to wait.  We didn’t have to wait long though – Jack came on right on time despite his warning us that he may not. Surf was up on the Goldy and an earlier post on his socials suggested Jack was having a hard time tearing himself away from the beach.  The band is certainly no stranger to Australia, having toured at least six times before and while I have seen countless shows in Brisbane over the years, I can honestly say I have never heard a crowd roar like they did for Jack Johnson on Saturday night.

One doesn’t become a multi-platinum selling musician, nor have a career that spans decades without truly understanding their audience and making a connection.  Johnson’s care and attention to detail in this regard was once again obvious on tour with Saturday night’s setlist sure to please even the ‘oldest’ of fans. Yes, there were songs played from the latest album (Costume Party, One Step Ahead, & Don’t look Now) but these were carefully weaved between twenty or more beloved tracks from the entire array of Jack’s back catalogue.  Those who’ve followed the artist for more than two decades would have no doubt approved of Jack’s heavy drawing from debut album Brushfire Fairytales and from his 2005 In between dreams. Taylor from the latter started the show and allowed the crowd to quickly warm up their vocal cords before the real singalong began during Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, up next.  By the time the familiar riff to Flake began, there was no stopping the capacity Brisbane crowd – Jack now had 9500 backup singers and you know what, they did alright! Next came one of many mashups – a combo of Upside down / Time is the master/ Badfish and John Holt cover You can’t control it

In Inaudible Melodies, drummer Adam Topal gets the first chance to show off his numerous talents. Actually Jack takes the time to introduce and pay tribute to all long-term band members during the set (bassist: Merlo Podlewski; and pianist but also singer/songwriter/ ALO member: Zach Gill).  When Emily Wurramara returns to the stage to sing Lady Blue as a duet, it is easy to see why Johnson chose the up-and-comer to support him. The song’s calming melody and hypnotic ukulele  immediately transport us to the water, like so many of the headliner’s tunes. This was followed by crowd pleaser Bubble Toes – you know the one – la-da-da-da-da-da – just try not to join in.  Next, it’s Zach Gill’s time to sing along, offering the last verse of the undulating and understated Wasting Time.

In between new tracks, Costume Party and Don’t Look Now, Ziggy Alberts returns to the stage. Here we are treated to Heaven, the first single of Ziggy’s second album ‘Laps around the Sun’ and the first of his tracks to ever reach ARIA chart status.  Ziggy clearly has a good fanbase here too – and why not; he tells us ‘you sound beautiful Brisbane’ before heading backstage again.  Ultra-fun Banana Pancakes follows before the rhythmic Rodeo Clowns. It seems like an odd note to finish on in some ways as the band leaves the stage.  Fortunately, we are not done yet! Jack returns amid thunderous applause, the likes of which I have not heard in Australia before.  I also can’t recall seeing an artist give us seven, yes seven, encores.  How blessed Brisbane feels at this point. Most of these see Jack on stage solo doing acoustic versions of classics like Do you remember and Breakdown while the crowd whistle along to I got you.  The full band returns for final track, unsurprisingly, the infamous Better Together. This, like so many of Jack Johnson’s songs, has undeniably entered the realm of cultural artefact. Like so many of his songs, the track just vibrates in a way like it was always going to be written and always going to be so special to so many. Will I be signing up to see Jack and band again? Absolutely. But how to end this review? “There is no combination of words I could say. But I will still tell you one thing, it’s always better when we’re together”.  So get there Australia.

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Gig ReviewsReviews

Flume @ Riverstage, Brisbane 16/11/2022

It’s always easy to get excited about a gig at Brisbane’s Riverstage. The grassed, natural amphitheatre means even shorties like me don’t have to worry too much about staking out a good vantage spot, and let’s face it, it’s basically hallowed ground.  The stage has previously played host to everyone from Midnight Oils to Florence + the Machine, from Beastie Boys and The Chemical Brothers to The Prodigy. Such company should not intimidate Harley Streten, aka Flume, though. The insanely popular Australian artist has previously toured festivals the world-over including Coachella and Lollapalooza, and has amassed countless awards both here and abroad.  For the all-ages Brisbane leg of his Palaces tour, Flume brings with him  Channel Tres, Toro y Moi and MAY-A.  Such a great line-up sees Brisbanites flock to the city as the sun goes down in what feels like a return to post COVID attendance figures.

When we arrive the roadies are busy moving an ‘arc-de-Triomphe’ frame of sorts, part of Flume’s otherwise minimalist stage set from the far left to the centre, then back again. Is it broken we wonder? Why is it not staying centre stage behind Flume’s two stations? Later we learn it is indeed working and even pulls apart and lights up, all with a little help from the roadies (don’t forget our all-important roadies btw. See SupportAct). Suddenly the crowd goes insane with a sound that would make any think Flume himself had come on early, but nope. It’s Channel Tres looking extra, complete with sequined tank, elbow length gloves, sneakers and shades. The artist clearly has a very healthy following here in Brisbane, perhaps a testament not only to his talent but to Triple J’s major radio play starting in 2018.  If the crowd needed any other reason to boogie – they didn’t – Channel Tres is accompanied by three energetic street dancers. Their choreographed moves complement the deep vocals and otherwise understated fat beats well. We’re treated to tracks including Top Down, Sexy Black Timberlake, 6am and Jet Black while something about the beats in Controller take me back to Beverly Hill Cop soundtrack days and Axel-F – ha ha weird! There is standing room only at the base of the Riverstage now and people are clearly ready to party. Further up the hill you can see that Flume maintains a varied fanbase with punters aged everywhere from their teens (well 6 months really- there was a baby with BIG earphones next to us) to their 50s. 

Perhaps Flume was as excited as his fans. He comes on a little early wearing full Motocross gear, the jacket of which comes off just one song in. If any of his decade-long fans were worried about Flume only playing new works, their fears were abased immediately by first choice Holdin on. It’s hard to believe this track IS ten years old now; it stands the test of time very well. Other historical tracks we’re treated to include Never be like you, Insane, Hyperreal and Smoke & Retribution among others. Special guest, Kučka, joins Flume for the last two in this list plus some more. Her pig tails and all black attire are understated but fortunately, her voice is anything but. Despite an enviable back catalogue, Flume continues to respectfully sample others too on the night including Disclosure and WILDKATS! Meanwhile, his backing visuals continue to titillate the audience. Displays include everything from his (now infamous) fox-glove flowers from the Skin album cover to a psychedelic morphing motorcycle tire and down-right scary, if not hypnotic, satanic looking dog. During Insane, the ‘arc-de-Triomphe’ frame lights up and divides, making me wonder how on earth they travel with that thing. Flume’s equipment is divided between two benches on either side of him, making for some terrific scenes and demanding that he switch frequently between the two.  

While Sydney is once again home to the DJ / record-producer having returned from a stint in Los Angeles, he makes the Brisbane crowd feel special explaining that all his family are locals, many of them joining us here tonight. Flume is indeed multi-talented, as are his sound crew who have to navigate the journey with him between crisp soprano piano notes (think Sleepless) and gritty distortion (think Get U off the latest album). Indeed, his set is quite the contradiction in some ways. Whilst no one could ever accuse the Grammy Award winning musician of failing to evolve, the moods embodied by some of his new experimental tracks are a bit confronting and a far cry from up-beat bangers like his remix of Hermitude’s HyperParadise. Just try not to dance during that one team! The crowd don’t disperse though, irrespective of the pace clearly shifting here and then there.  Flume doesn’t talk much during the set but takes the time to share a moment that triggered him only earlier backstage.  He pays tribute to friend, Sophie, who Flume explains was transitioning during the last Brisbane show and is now no longer with us.

Ok, so the one downside about the Riverstage is the strict (and I mean strict) lock down at 10pm. On the plus side, this means I can predict Flume’s plan to play several encores having ‘pretended’ to leave at 9:45pm. He certainly wasn’t interested in short-changing anyone and perhaps that’s why he came on early. Indeed, the set is a really decent length with Flume managing to play close to 25 tracks. This also means he gets to share the stage with other vocalists too including Toro y Moi for The Difference and May-A for Say Nothing and Never be like you. In this last one I feared for May-A actually who clearly stacks it down some stairs, but, in true professional form doesn’t miss a beat and continues to energetically dance around, all the while getting the crowd to sing along too. For a ‘school night’, people are pumped and Flume expresses his gratitude, even mentioning that it’s Wednesday several times. It feels as though he is in part applauding us and in part enticing us to continue in that spirit of revelry. Two of his three encores are courtesy of Streten having recently discovered an old laptop housing several unreleased songs, but he ends the night with Aria-Award winning Rushing Back featuring Vera Blue.  Having now collaborated with everyone from Lorde to Arcade Fire and even Gorillaz front-man Damon Albarn, it is safe to say Flume is not going anywhere anytime soon. Exactly where this journey will take him and his avid fans, however, feels far less certain.

Flume plays Melbourne 24th November, Adelaide 30th and Hobart 2nd December.  Get tickets HERE

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