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[Review] Tommy Emmanuel @ Festival Theatre, Adelaide 24/05/2023

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.

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InterviewsTour Interview

Interview with Tommy Emmanuel

(STM) What is your process and criteria for selecting and developing new songs to add to your live repertoire?

(TE) With my live repertoire, I'm always trying to add as many of my own songs in there, or choose a cover that I can put my own slant on and make it fun or entertaining and unexpected to the crowd! The importance of starting the show with the right songs cannot be underestimated!

Are there any songs you wish you could have included to your live/studio repertoire, but perhaps they didn’t translate exactly as desired?

Not all songs work as instrumentals, and I have to be really certain of it's integrity and muscle when I put it in my shows! Playing something in a concert situation is THE acid test!

Do you have a favourite collaboration that sticks out in your mind?

I have had so many wonderful Collaborations over my life,, “Burn for You” with John Farnham stands out as a great duet.. Nobody sings like HIM!

Who, past or present would you most like to collaborate with, and why?

I wish my brother Phil was back so we could launch our Duo on the world!!

You’ve recently performed some of Jeff Beck’s music live. Did you have a relationship with the late guitar legend?

I never got to meet Jeff Beck, but I have loved his playing since my brother gave me the “Blow by Blow” Album… He astounds me still.. What a tone!! RIP JB

Is there anything new you were surprised to have taken away and learned from your guitar camps over the years?

I've learned that there's no point in sugar-coating any part of the process of learning / practising / achieving … when it comes to playing, there IS no easy way, there's work, DEDICATION and a lot of determination to get any good at anything in music. I tell it like it is, life is too short to waste any time ! GET TO WORK!

Hypothetical curveball – you have to play without the use of your middle or index finger – which do you choose?

ooooo Bad situation??? … Middle finger, because I can make my index finger do things my middle finger can't ! TE

You can still catch Tommy Emmanuel at the following dates

Tickets available here: tommyemmanuel.com

Tues 23 May – QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane 

Wed 24 May – Festival Theatre, Adelaide

Fri 26 May – Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, Hobart

Sat 27 May – Country Club, Launceston

Sun 28 May – Arts Centre Melbourne Hamer Hall, Melbourne

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