Project Description

Bernard Fanning + Kasey Chambers @ Canberra Theatre Centre (Live Review)

I can’t decide whether Bernard Fanning and Kasey Chambers are an instinctive fit for a double show or a counter intuitive one.  On the one hand she’s a country sweetheart who made a name for herself pleadingly asking the country if she was pretty enough. Fanning, on the other hand forged a reputation with indie rock favourites Powderfinger who cemented themselves into the national psyche with a couple of uncharacteristic ballads. Both have gravitated towards more pop-like sensibilities in the last few years and both of their new albums reflect the change.

The contrast in personality between the two performers becomes pronounced when back to back and, for a few moments at the end of the show, side by side.  Chambers is the impossibly humble down-home girl, so eager to please her audience, so wanting them to like her. Which by the way, they do.  In spades.  They love her.  Her charming and disarming manner.  Her simple, personal storysongs. She doesn’t play her songs, she shares them.  She let’s the audience in on the secrets her songs retell.  The effect is so intimate; she could be playing to the back bar of a small town pub. What’s more her band consists of her dad and a couple of kids she actually did find playing in the back bar of a small town pub.  She talks about her upbringing on the Nullarbor, her exes, her children. She is the image of country simplicity with golden hair and a flowing summer dress.

Fanning exudes a vibe so polemically opposite.  Rather than humbled by your presence, you get the sense he feels like you should be grateful to be in his.  His songs are not a secret he shares with you; they’re a gift he bestows.  A fangirl squeals and he reminds her it isn’t the Ellen show.  Another snaps his fingers out of time and Fanning admonishes him, saying “leave it to Declan. He’s better than you.” Nonetheless the feeling in the room remains convivial.  They like him anyway.  They see through the fact that he pretends not to care; they overlook it.

They both play their respective hits, showing off what made them so popular in the first place. The songs are good.  They’re really good.  They’re solid and dependable.  Likeable and familiar. Pleasing in a way the word can’t do justice. Fanning plays a few of the Powderfinger megahits including ‘These Days’ which he concedes bears remarkable resemblance in structure to Purple Rain, something he claims only to have realised when sitting in the audience at a Prince show in Sydney recently. The story takes on a poignancy given that artist’s recent departure and adds to his connection to the crowd.

They finish the show together, at one point hunkering down on the edge of the stage to play unplugged and unmiked; Chambers’ enormous voice defying her diminutive stature, Fanning showing a rare glimpse of tenderness.  For the finale they’re joined on stage by all the members of both of their bands and Garret Kato, the kid who opened the show and who looks like he’s been rolling cigarettes for Woody Guthrie. They close with a belted out version of Leadbelly’s ‘Midnight Special’ that fills the sold out theatre to bursting point.  The crowdfeel soars and everyone leaves feeling like Tuesday night in the Capital is a pretty good place to be.

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Reviewer Details

  • Benjamin Smith