September 01, 2008

Tall Stories and Go-Betweens

Filed under: Archive,Music

Robert Forster
Governor Hindmarsh
August 6.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

At the first show of a three week tour which was eventually to meander back to Sydney, Robert Forster is looking benign and bemused. It is a cold wet Wednesday, the open fire is banked high and the crowd at the Gov is sparse but keen. There is an air of rehearsal to this out of town try-out, Forster’s first gig since the release of his excellent new CD The Evangelist and the first in Adelaide since he toured with the old firm, The Go-Betweens.

Before opening his set Forster had already ambled out on stage several times, fidgeting with the stage monitors and chatting to punters at the front tables. He is a disarming sight, this tall, somewhat improbable rock and roll performer. Dressed in a navy, v-necked jumper, winkle-picker shoes and red tartan scarf, his hair parted in long Wildean hanks, he could be a foppish solicitor or a very out-there chemistry teacher. The heavy eyebrows and distracted air give a stern impression but he is all affability.

The opening solo stuff is a bit loose, sketchy and under-done. He introduces one title as The Girl Lying on the Beach but the rest is unfamiliar. It is only when ten year collaborator and fellow Go-Between, Adele Pickvance, brings on her bass and pealing voice, that Forster hits his stride with If it Rains, one of the many highlights from The Evangelist, followed (now with Glenn Thompson joining on keyboards) by Demon Days, one of two songs on the solo CD co-written with the late Grant McLennan, whose sudden death in May 2006, even now, gives the event an inescapable melancholy.

Forster makes no specific mention of his long-time musical partner, he has already paid eloquent tribute, both in the spirit of the current album and in his memorable tribute in The Monthly. Instead he draws on the rich vein of such solo albums as Warm Nights and Danger in the Past. My Rock and Roll Friend turns up early on, Heart out to Tender and I Can Do feature in the encore segment. He gives a self-deprecating intro to the Patti Smith-inspired When She Sang About Angels and returns to The Evangelist for Pandanus and the elusive Did She Overtake You.

But it is that striped sunlight sound of the Go-Betweens that carries much of the night. Energised by new young thing, Matthew Harrison’s crisp and thrifty drumming, Pickvance’s bony vibrant bass and Thompson’s Casio noodlings, Robert Forster gets into the groove with such latter-day selections as the irresistible Too Much of One Thing, Surfing Magazines and Here Comes a City . Gazing into the middle distance, Forster strums his slack-stringed rhythms as he breaks into his famously weird, loose-hipped shuffle. In perfect sync the band carries that airy, infectious, boppy sound that has made the Go-Betweens indie cult legends for thirty years.

There is much to savour here – Darlinghurst Nights and Here Comes a City from Oceans Apart , German Farmhouse from Rachel Worth. The Evangelist material is in surprising short supply and we don’t get Bachelor Kisses or The Streets of Your Town. But we do get a cover of The Hampdens’ Vampire Weekend and, on a cold wet August night, a harbinger of another season – Spring Rain. This is Robert Forster’s pop art that conceals art, with its smiley rhythms, singalong choruses, and a breezy lyricism – unexpected from such a tall and serious-looking fellow.

The Adelaide Review, No.343, September, 2008, p.27.

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