As my husband and I rounded the corner on Saturday night we both asked the same question at the same time: “Is that it?” The building in front of us had a sign advertising Bob Evans’ gig out the front, but it looked more like a beach house than any RSL. The parking lot was packed and families spilled out on the wooden deck, making the place look more like someone’s private party than somewhere we’d see a gig. Walking inside I was still a little confused. There were no poker machines, a decision by management apparently to make this place a little different, and only a flimsy curtain separated the “auditorium” (and I use the word loosely) from the restaurant. Hardys Bay RSL isn’t like any club I’ve been to, but the more I thought about it the more I realised it was the perfect place for an unassuming artist like Bob Evans to play.

We tried to grab dinner but the frazzled waitress told me they were far too busy to take our orders just yet. I joked that we didn’t think to book because everything is usually a bit casual on the Coast. She agreed and said she didn’t anticipate the rush either. As word of this place and its intimate gigs spread, perhaps she’s going to have to get used to it.

So instead we took a seat in the main room, a space that felt more like a nanna’s loungeroom than the venue for a gig. Plush sofas lined the walls which were decorated with framed photographs and ornate lamps. It was all very charming. Food came soon enough, the perfect accompaniment for the wine which was better than I expected from a small RSL.

When Bob Evans stepped on to the stage, which was really just a slightly elevated platform, there was little fanfare, save for the Christmas lights adorning his acoustic guitar. I have the feeling that suits a guy like Bob down to the ground though.

I must admit, I’m nowhere near as familiar with his music as many of the transfixed members of the audience were. But in such an intimate setting, you don’t need to know the songs. It’s a setting which lets you hear lyrics and appreciate new music. Not that I was completely in the dark. I was surprised to hear “Nowhere Without You” come out relatively early. He saved “Don’t You Think It’s Time” until much later in the set, but I don’t think the crowd would have minded what songs came out when.

Watching them singing along to all the words, you could see the adoration in their eyes. A few women were so taken by the music, or perhaps the wine, that they got up to dance. It’s no mean feat to boogie along to a guy playing folky music with an acoustic guitar, but I admired their enthusiasm.

It seemed the admiration was mutual, as Bob came out for encore after encore. At the very end he insisted we’d need to be quiet for this one, unplugged his guitar, and stepped off the stage. He did a slow lap of the room, charming each and every one of us, whether we knew the song as most did, or were hearing it for the first time like myself.

Sometimes when I see a show because I was offered tickets, I feel a little disconnect. I can see the way other people love the artist and wish I could be in the moment as they are. But instead I left Hardys Bay RSL feeling privileged that I’d seen a gig I wouldn’t ordinarily see that was so special. Fans catching Bob Evans as he winds his way around the country, you won’t be disappointed. Here are the remaining shows:

3 May 2017 – Clarendon Guest House, Katoomba
5 May 2017 – Camelot Lounge, Sydney
6 May 2017 – Brass Monkey, Cronulla
7 May 2017 – Heritage Hotel, Bulli
11 May 2017 – The Spotted Cow, Toowoomba
12 May 2017 – 5 Church St, Bellingen
13 May 2017 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
1 June 2017 – Baha, Rye
2 June 2017 – The Croxton Front Bar, Melbourne
3 June 2017 – Workers Club, Geelong
8 June 2017 – Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide
9 June 2017 – Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine

I was just 13 when The Yearning, Things of Stone and Wood’s debut album, was released. Like so many Aussies, I adored the band’s blend of folk, pop, and rock, especially the super catchy breakthrough single “Happy Birthday Helen.” I always regretted that I was too young to get to a pub and see them live. As is the way with so many bands of the era though, I got another chance when they hit Sydney on the weekend.

Things have changed a little though. I can’t imagine the band playing a matinee back in the ‘90s. There was something lovely about shuffling in to the old Sando after a café lunch though, knowing that the gig would be all wrapped up in time for tea. That we’d be back on the Coast at a civilised hour! As we’re all getting older, these things matter.

Charming indie folk duo The Old Married Couple warmed up the crowd. The real life husband and wife pairing delivered honest and quirky love songs that quickly won me over with their whimsy, and use of unusual instruments like kazoos and whistles.

The crowd surged forward when Club Hoy took to the stage. I must admit, I’m not sure where I was when they came out originally. All I know is that I had absolutely no recollection of this band that seemed to mean so much to so many people in the audience. I could certainly appreciate them though. They reminded me a lot of the Indigo Girls with their beautiful harmonies and powerful, personal lyrics.

Things of Stone and Wood though. When they came out I was on much more familiar territory. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Yearning (seriously, where has the time gone?) the band promised to play the album in its entirety, from start to finish. Unlike so much music from the ‘90s, these songs haven’t dated one bit. The band also sounds just as good as they did on that recording, or perhaps even better with their producer James Black now on keys and mandolin. The chemistry between the members of the band and their connection with the crowd was electric. I’m struggling to recall a show in recent memory where there was so much palpable love in the room.

The big singles like “Rock This Boat,” “Share This Wine,” and of course “Happy Birthday Helen” were received rapturously. But in a concert like this, every song has a special place in the heart of the audience, so the energy level in the room never dropped. After wrapping up The Yearning, the band had delivered just what they promised. But none of us were done. So we were treated to an encore of songs from Things of Stone and Wood’s other releases. I was reminded just how good “Wildflowers,” a song I hadn’t thought of in years, is.

Honestly, as I re-entered the real world I marvelled at just how good Things of Stone and Wood are. While this show was about nostalgia and celebrating their landmark release, it also served as a reminder that this band continue to be one of the best Australia has produced. There are a couple of shows on this tour left. If you can get out and see them this week at one of these gigs, I promise you won’t regret it.

29 March 2017 – The Spiegeltent, Hobart
31 March 2017 – Workers Club, Geelong
1 April 2017 – Sound Lounge, Currumbin
2 April 2017 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane

Image source: own photos

With some time to myself today it seemed the perfect moment to actually sit down and write about the exceptional concert I saw in Sydney last Friday night. No, not Adele. You wouldn’t know it judging by all the media hype, but Sydney actually welcomed two more international stars that night: Jewel and Don Henley.

As a woman of a certain age, I was pretty excited about seeing folk songbird live. Sadly a dinner that ran overtime and some unexpectedly long lines outside the new ICC Sydney Theatre meant we were a little late, but what I caught was just what I’d hoped it would be. Just Jewel, who looks like she hasn’t aged a day since the ‘90s, her acoustic guitar, and that sublime voice of hers. I loved hearing hits from Pieces of You as stripped back as they were on that original album. “Foolish Games” had me welling up. I also developed a new appreciation for “Intuition,” a song I’d always hated because it seemed so overproduced. The acoustic mode really let its cutting lyrics shine. A special moment between Jewel and her young son, dueting on a song sung for generations in her family, tugged at the heart strings. She really made the most of her all-too-brief time on stage, sharing stories and songs with such warmth. There was even yodelling! I really hope to see her back in Australia soon, because she was superb.

After seeing The Eagles a couple of times before Glenn Frey’s untimely death, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Don’s solo show. I knew the songs would be good, but I wondered whether the Eagles’ tracks would seem a little lacking without the other Eagles voices in the mix. But Don knows what he’s doing. He assembled one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in some time, including three superb backup singers my husband recognised from The Voice US. He opened with a song from her latest album Cass County, “Seven Bridges Road,” a stripped back country number which really showcased the vocal talents of all on stage.

While this show was about touring Cass County, Don knows what fans want to hear. He promised us he’d do the occasional song for him, but plenty of songs for us, and he did. The set drew heavily from his days with The Eagles; wisely he stuck to those tracks where he originally sang lead vocals, ensuring they sounded just right to our ears. I was especially thrilled to hear “The Last Resort,” a song that Don admitted he hadn’t played for decades before embarking on these solo shows. Tracks from the ‘80s were also celebrated. Despite their advancing years they sounded so fresh, especially “The End of the Innocence” with its lyrics so resonant in the time of Trump. There were surprises too; I’m not sure anyone expected Don Henley to launch into “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

It took until the second encore for Don to address the elephant in the room and chat about Glenn Frey, his longtime collaborator who we so sadly lost last year. He told us how he missed him before launching into two of the songs they penned together: “Wasted Time” and “Desperado.” Such painful songs made more poignant under the circumstances. We took a moment, remembered, and then danced. It’s what Glenn would have wanted I think. “All She Wants to Do is Dance” was the perfect closer for Don Henley’s show, a performance that was about nostalgia but also celebrating an artist that continues to be at the top of his game.

Port Macquarie is nearly four hours from my place. It’s a lovely part of the world, but it takes something special to get me to make the journey. But the combination of an irresistible Red Hot Summer line-up and a catch-up with my friend Lisa (who hails from Brissie, so had a much longer journey than me) was too good to pass up.

Ben Hazelwood helped make the already warm crowd that little bit warmer. They don’t call these shows Red Hot Summer for nothing! I knew his name rang a bell, but was surprised to read that he was on the first season of The Voice. As I saw photos I remembered a performer who was talented but a little bland, a world away from this sexy rock god that graced the stage. He had just the right amount of drama and theatrics to pull me in, and his voice has matured so much in just a few years. I thoroughly enjoyed his set and made a mental note to check out more of his compelling originals.

From new discoveries to old favourites, Taxiride were up next. I knew a whole lot of hardcore Taxiride fans when I was in my late teens, but I can only recall catching them once. Watching them on the stage, I felt a little regret that I didn’t see more of them in the ’90s. They’re every bit as good as they once were, if you were wondering, with some of the tightest harmonies you’ll ever hear and a back catalogue that’s bigger than you might expect. I found myself singing along with every song and clapping heartily for them, enjoying myself thoroughly despite the rain that would plague the rest of the evening.
I’ve never really been a Shannon Noll fan. His music is easy to listen to, but it always felt a little Triple M by the numbers for me. However, seeing him live I have a brand new appreciation for Nollsy. He’s such a showman, the quintessential Aussie larrikin with a great collection of songs that make people smile. Simple. I turned to my husband and said watching Nollsy belt out The Choirboys’ “Run to Paradise” may just be the most Australian thing I’ve ever seen at a gig. And even though he’s probably sung “What About Me?” more times than I’ve had hot dinners, he still put all his heart and soul into it. I was also not so secretly thrilled to see him decked out in double denim, with jeans and a sleeveless vest. I’m not sure he could have chosen a more perfect outfit!

Jon Stevens stood in for an ailing Daryl Braithwaite. I must admit, it took me a little while to warm up to him. In a show like this, you have such a short time with the fans. And let’s face it, as a fill-in act, they’re probably not your fans. So to start slow to a bunch of songs most of us didn’t know seemed an odd choice. All was forgiven once the hits started coming through. As well as the Noiseworks standards there was “Disappear,” an INXS track which reminded me of the very first time I saw Jon, fronting the seminal Aussie rock band. He also paid tribute to Dazza with a stirring cover of “The Horses.” By “Hot Chilli Woman” we were all in ecstasy right along with him.

James Reyne was the act I was most looking forward to, and as always, he didn’t disappoint. I’ve seen him play so many times, but mostly in an acoustic setting. So to hear him electric with a full band was bags of fun. His set was flawless, delivering all of the songs anyone could hope for, from his days with Australian Crawl to his solo successes. What a talent.

John Farnham was the man so many people of Port Macquarie came to see, as is evidence by how quickly the general admission area filled once his set began. It’s a shame that Westport Park doesn’t slope, because any parts that I could see from my comfy camp chair were on the big screens rather than the stage as people gathered in front. John Farnham’s voice is undeniable though. His set brought us hit after hit from his solo career and even his time in Little River Band. “Burn For You” was a poignant highlight, although it would have been nice if the yobbos in front of me could have quit laughing as they hoisted women onto their shoulders and taken a moment to be quiet and listen. It’s all about respect guys, for both the artists and the people around you who want to get lost in the music. My husband and I had to stand for “The Voice” because, well, it seemed unAustralian not to. During it my husband turned to me and said “No Lauren, this is the most Australian thing we’ve ever witnessed as a concert.” As we all sang out the chorus is was hard to disagree. As John came back for an encore I wondered what could be left in his repertoire. Where do you go after “The Voice”? It seems you visit the back catalogue of another legendary Aussie act, AC/DC. “It’s a Long Way to the Top” was the ideal end for this celebration of Aussie talent. I just wondered though, why not make use of the bagpipers you’ve already brought for “The Voice”? It seemed a strange choice.

Before I go, I should make mention of how well run the day was. The staff were exceptional. The personable MC made those moments between acts fly by. While the food and drink vendors didn’t deliver anything too flash, the food was hot and the lines were short. The bar queues didn’t even seem too intimidating, although the decision not to serve wine was a strange one. Special props to the Lions Club who diligently collected our rubbish throughout the day. It’s got to be such a thankless job, but it made the place feel so much nicer.

Port Macquarie is a long way to go for any concert, but the Red Hot Summer tour was definitely worth the trip.

Image source: own photos

After an unexpected death in the family a couple of weeks ago, my family has been having a fairly tough time. We needed some fun, but even Christmas couldn’t seem to pull us out of our funk. Last night at Ettalong Diggers, Ross Wilson managed to do what the silly season couldn’t and put a smile on the faces of my parents, my husband, and myself.
Ross Wilson gives a masterclass in the art of performing. He doesn’t rely on bells and whistles, just great music and a superb backing band. At times I found myself marvelling at the prowess of his keyboardist and guitarist. However, while they’re good they never overshadowed the main man, a man who has created countless hits in his solo career and time with Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock. All of the biggies were performed in Ross Wilson’s own inimitable style over two sets.

Ross Wilson is the kind of performer that just makes you feel good. His loud shirt was every bit as bold as his presence on stage. And that voice, it’s lost nothing over the years. He had us captivated in powerful numbers like “Touch of Paradise” and on our feet with “Come Back Again,” “Hi Honey Ho,” “Cool World,” and of course, “Eagle Rock.” I’m not sure there’s anything more Australian than being at a club dancing around to the Daddy Cool smash.

I always think music finds you at the time you need it. At a terrible time for my family, a night out with the musical gifts and generous stage presence of Ross Wilson was just what the doctor ordered.

Image source: own photo

I didn’t really want to see Aladdin. I imagined I’d feel a little like I did when I saw Mary Poppins, disconnected from the experience and wishing I could see it through a child’s eyes. Longing for magic. However, I’m thrilled my husband wanted to see it to celebrate his birthday, because it turned out to be one of the best nights I’ve enjoyed at the theatre.

In the movie, we were left waiting until Aladdin rubbed the lamp to meet the scene-stealing Genie. In the musical version he’s our faithful guide, explaining what was to come and taking us to the magical land of Agrabah. It was a visual feast from the get go, with dancing ladies and muscly men with swords twirling about.

In the midst of it all was an Aladdin, who was soon on the run from the law. I remember marvelling at this scene as a kid, and was impressed with the way it came to life on the stage. Animation allows you to do so much that I worried we’d lose some of the sparkle in the real world, but the clever choreography sucked me right in.

Some things were changed to make the transition to the stage. Iago lost his feathers and became a short-statured man with the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. Abu the monkey was nowhere to be seen, with Aladdin instead relying on the support of his good-hearted “street rat” pals. Robin Williams was larger than life as the Genie in the film version, but Michael James Scott made the role his own. He was an absolute scream, with a killer voice to boot.

I was sceptical about whether Aladdin could whisk me up in its magic, but by the time our hero and Princess Jasmine boarded their magic carpet I was in raptures. While the movie impressed me, those flat images on a screen couldn’t hold a candle to the sight of our young couple taking flight with only the stars and moon to illuminate their path.

By the time the cast took their final bows I couldn’t believe I’d been in the theatre for a couple of hours. It flew by. What a fast-paced, funny, and truly magical experience. Aladdin isn’t just for kids. It’s for the kid that still exists inside us all.

The punters were promised the biggest and best Jazz in the Vines yet, a fitting party to farewell the Hunter Valley’s beloved festival. However, some major organizational flaws put a dampener on the festivities and left many of us with a sour taste in our mouth.

Long queues snaking in to the land beside Tyrrell’s Vineyard were our first clue that this year might be a little different from the very relaxed festival I’ve loved for so many years. Ordinarily the lines move quickly, yet I missed most of Anna Weatherup’s set because I was queuing to enter the venue. She sounded amazing, with laidback covers of songs from Dido and Eva Cassidy, and I really wish the lines had moved faster so I could watch her play.

Sadly that was a recurrent theme for this year’s event which has been dubbed “Jazz in the Lines” by some of those disappointed. After entering the venue and setting up our chairs, Dad and I made a beeline for the bar. I’m glad that we did, because even though people were still streaming through the gates, it took us an hour to get to the front. As it turned out, those two bottles of wine we purchased for our group of four would be the only ones we’d buy all day. While in the queue we heard tickets were still being sold at the gate, further compounding the problem. At one point we saw the queue stretch out to four times the size it was when we lined up.

The event’s organiser’s commented on Facebook that “many of our patrons were let down by the one aspect out of our control,” before passing the buck to Tyrrell’s. The winemaker apologised for the queues, noting they were “understaffed” and the demand for wines “was far greater than anticipated.” However, when an event has been promoted as extensively as this one and tickets are sold in what must be record numbers, I fail to understand how the demand could be “greater than anticipated.” Staff should have been found, whether they were from the winery or contracted for the day. It all made me long for the years before Tyrrell’s had the monopoly, when it would share the spotlight with the likes of Tamburlaine and Peterson’s Champagne House, and queues were negligible.

While the situation was unfortunate, it wasn’t the only problem on the day as the organisers suggested. The queues in to the venue were too long, and this was repeated as we waited for the car park to clear at the end. At one point a frustrated volunteer threw down his sign, leaving confused cars to try to work things out until a police officer ran in to address the mess. The bins were overflowing by mid-afternoon, forcing many attendees to leave glass bottles strewn around the grass and creating an unsafe environment. With so many people at the event, this should have never been left unchecked.

A representative from Jazz in the Vines contacted me on Monday when I shared my frustrations on Facebook along with others. Remembering my name and blog, he urged me to call him so he could give his side of the story before I wrote this review. With a busy week of vet appointments, Melbourne Cup luncheons, and entertaining my visiting parents, I knew I’d barely have a moment to myself. I urged him to write an email if he had anything further to add to the comments regarding Tyrrell’s on Facebook. I didn’t receive one. I questioned him about the bins over Facebook Messenger, but I didn’t get an answer on that either.

I’m not suggesting one needs to drink to have a good time, but I do think when you pay money for an event like Jazz in the Vines, you’re paying for an experience. You should be able to enjoy all that’s on offer, rather than being forced to decide whether to queue to get alcohol and miss hours of entertainment or go without.
For our party the decision was a no brainer. We drank the little bit of wine we could procure slowly, and purchased some softies from the guys from the Men’s Shed before they sold out. It was much more important for us to watch the music, which as always impressed. The first act I got to see was Monica Trapaga, performing with John Morrison’s Swing City. I’ve always loved Monica since growing up with her on Playschool and I’m not sure she’s aged a day. What a vivacious entertainer, a proper old-school jazz artist with a clear, pure tone and a little va-va-voom in her delivery. She was over far too soon.

The next act Ondawon was so intriguing. Lead singer Neilsen Gough has one of the best soul voices I’ve ever heard. His classic sound reminded me a little of Luther Vandross mixed with Bill Withers. He could easily have stuck to soul standards, but instead the set featured covers of songs like Elvis Costello’s “Alison” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” performed in really unique ways. I enjoyed it, although it was probably a shade too long at an hour.

I could feel the crowds getting restless until John Morrison’s Swing City returned, this time with John’s Brother James, Dale Barlow, and Emma Pask in tow. James Morrison really is Mr Jazz in the Vines. He has such charisma and is always a blast to see. I’d watched him play the festival with Emma years ago, long before The Voice, and I was thrilled for her return. Her voice truly is something else. The playful chemistry between them, showcased perfectly in songs like “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” made this set an absolute joy.

Lisa Hunt was up next, another Jazz favourite who always gets the crowd up and dancing with her Motown covers. Up near the stage really was the best place to experience her set, not just because you could feel the electricity from her, but also because the sound suffered back near our seats. I’m not really sure what happened – this was the only act where sound quality suffered – but judging by a couple of Facebook comments I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Thankfully there were no such issues for Leo Sayer, my favourite act of the day. I’m not sure I realised just how many Leo Sayer songs I knew or what a dynamic performer he is. I was held transfixed and loved every single second of his set which delivered hit after hit including excellent renditions of “When I Need You,” “One Man Band,” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” What a treasure he is. I really must see him playing his own show, because he is exceptional.

After being in raptures over Leo’s set, I felt a little let down over the closing act, Mental as Anything. It seems I wasn’t alone, as I saw many people exiting the venue when they took the stage. Playing some relatively obscure songs up front probably didn’t help matters. Musically the band is still strong, but the vocals from Greedy Smith and Martin Plaza aren’t quite what they used to be. I had a little boogie to “Live It Up” and “Nips Are Getting Bigger,” but I felt a little underwhelmed.

On the whole though, Jazz in the Vines delivered many of the outstanding musical performances I’ve come to expect. It’s just a shame that the well-publicised problems took the gloss off what should have been a very special curtain call for one of the Hunter’s most loved festivals.

Image source: own photos

I had to rely on this blog to tell me how many times I’ve seen Glen Hansard perform. It seems Sunday’s show at the Sydney Opera House was my fourth time seeing the Irish troubadour, yet the gloss never seems to wear off.

Funnily enough, when my husband and I tell people we’re seeing Glen Hansard we’re always met with blank faces. We mention the movie and stage musical Once, the song “Falling Slowly” it spawned, yet still there’s no recognition. I’m not sure why he hasn’t broken through to the mainstream yet, but I’m glad there are enough of us dedicated fans to see Glen sell out iconic venues like the Opera House twice over.

One of the things that keeps me coming back to see Glen is that every show is different. This time he was out promoting his newish album Didn’t He Ramble, so there were new songs to enjoy. He was also out here with one of the biggest bands I can remember, made up of members of The Frames, the act that saw him come to prominence, as well a string section and pianist.

Mercifully for a show starting at 9 on a school night there was no support act. Glen and his players walked out without fanfare, setting the scene for a show that was more about true talent than bells and whistles. And there we were, transfixed, for the best part of three hours. This generous set never felt laboured because Glen has so much quality music to draw from. The long set gave us time to hear the stories behind songs and enjoy extended jams which showcased the quality of all musicians on the stage. Everyone was so talented, but Glen is the one who demands attention. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer that’s so committed to his songs, so connected to his music. It’s a raw, beautiful to see him strumming furiously at an instrument, crying out his lyrics.

Most of the songs drew from Didn’t He Ramble, but he still delved back into the old Frames and Swell Season catalogue for those of us who’ve supported his music all these years. “Star Star” morphed into “Pure Imagination,” a fitting tribute to the late Gene Wilder. A cover of “Astral Weeks,” a nod to his fellow countryman Van Morrison was another highlight for this woman who was raised on Van’s music.

There were also special guests. Glen brought up Peter, a busker he’d met on the streets of Sydney who played a stunning song he’d penned for his mother. Watching this young guy so overwhelmed to be on the Opera House stage, to be playing Glen’s guitar, to be so supported by a musical hero, was so moving. Peader O’Riada, a legendary Irish classical pianist also joined Glen for “Leave a Light” before treating us to a few of his own compositions. I don’t listen to a lot of classical music but I couldn’t help but be impressed by his talent.

As we were shuffling out of the theatre I heard the gentleman behind me turn to his friends and say “I have the feeling we just witnessed something really special.” I can’t help but agree.

Image source: own photo

When my family first heard a stage musical based on the life of Bobby Darin was in the works, there was only one man we could imagine successfully taking on the role. That man was David Campbell. We knew he’d be impressive, but I don’t think we were quite prepared for just how good he would be.

Dream Lover really is David Campbell’s show. His Bobby Darin is a presence in virtually every scene, and he shines throughout. We’re first introduced in Bobby on the night of what would be his final performance. I’ve seen David perform the opening number “Mack the Knife” several times over the years, but with back-up dancers and a tight orchestra (who are celebrated on stage rather than buried in the pit as in so many musicals) the song reaches another level.

From there we’re taken on a journey through Bobby’s life. We see him as a child with stars in his eyes, as a hard-working rock-and-roll singer, and as the toast of Hollywood with Sandra Dee on his arm. We’ve seen this kind of rags-to-riches tale before, but most musicals tend to shy away from the darkness Dream Lover isn’t afraid to explore. Bobby Darin’s stellar catalogue of beloved music ensures the show doesn’t get too gloomy.

Stepping into Bobby Darin’s shoes is no small feat. This is the Bobby Darin story after all. This character isn’t always likeable, yet there must be a charm about him that helps us forgive his unrelenting ambition. He sings, he dances, and he gives the production its anchor. David makes all this look easy, as the very best stage performers do. I’ve long admired his vocal chops, but I didn’t realise how impressive his acting skills are.

Special mention must go to Caroline O’Connor, a stage veteran who took on the dual roles of Polly and Mary Douvan with aplomb. Hannah Fredericksen brought the right amount of sweetness and strength to her portrayal of Sandra Dee and Bert Labonte was also excellent in the role of Charlie, a paternal figure to Bobby.

Sydney is lucky enough to have the world premiere of Dream Lover, although I’m sure it will tour around Australia in time. And after that, who knows? This musical is certainly solid enough to leave the country and grace the stages of Broadway or the West End. However, unless David Campbell commits to taking the role abroad, I can’t imagine it’ll be as good as the original Australian production!

Dream Lover
is playing at the Lyric Theatre until at least November 27.

Jimmy Barnes is the type of singer who can sell out entertainment centres, so it’s always a thrill when he decides to put on a more intimate show at a venue like Lizotte’s. It’s been far too long since I’ve made the trek down the Pacific Highway to the only remaining Lizotte’s venue, but the promise of “hits and rarities” was too appealing to resist.

Jimmy’s daughter Elly-May Barnes warmed up the crowd with her star-studded band, The Ragged Company. With The Superjesus’ Sarah McLeod on tambourine and The Art’s Kara Jayne and X Factor winner Reece Mastin on acoustic guitars, this act was always going to impress. Their set was made up of covers destined to please the mostly baby boomer crowd, including cuts from David Bowie, The Everly Brothers, and Neil Young. I was a little concerned at first, with Elly-May’s vocals clearly showing nerves. However, a couple of songs in she seemed to find her feet and sing with sweetness and surety. The band’s harmonies were gorgeous and their organic arrangements of these classics allowed them to shine. The quartet seemed to be having such fun together, and the crowd responded in kind.

While Elly-May and her crew were well received, her dad was the man we were all here to see. The atmosphere when he took the stage was electric. We hung on his every word as he delivered an empassioned version of “Trouble of the World,” a song Mahalia Jackson sang in the classic film Imitation of Life. After he was done Jimmy told us about watching the movie with his dad as a young boy, thinking little of the film but being so blown away by Mahalia’s performance that he decided to bestow the name upon his daughter. She was there to his left, supporting his rich, raspy voice with her own throughout the show.

And what a show it was. I’ve seen Jimmy Barnes so many times over the years. He was actually my first concert all those years ago. Most times I’ve seen Jimmy he was rocking out with the sound turned up to 11, delivering the kind of hits that have become Aussie radio staples. This was a different kind of show, one that allowed Jimmy to celebrate favourite songs from his own back catalogue and the world of music that wouldn’t fit at those other gigs. I never would have expected to hear Nat King Cole’s “Around the World” at a Jimmy Barnes gig, but he performed it beautifully. Flesh and Wood was a favourite album when I was growing up, and I loved hearing cuts from it like “Brother of Mine” and “You Can’t Make Love Without a Soul” that rarely make the live set. No doubt with the stories contained in his upcoming book Working Class Boy fresh in his mind, Jimmy punctuated his songs with tales of his childhood and relationship to music.

I heard a few grumbles about the notable absence of hit singles, but I didn’t mind doing without them. While a ballad like “Flame Trees” made sense on a night like this, Jimmy’s more raucous numbers would have seemed incongruous. I’ve heard those songs so many times before anyway, so getting the chance to hear other tracks provided a welcome change of pace. Where he might ordinarily close the night with “Working Class Man,” we heard a flawless rendition of “Love Me Tender” instead. It was the perfect way to close this very different and very special Jimmy Barnes show.

Image source: own photos