Support for the almost solo set by Robert Forster to follow was provided by local boys Ricky Belair and Jason Katsaras playing songs from their band Big Town and Ricky’s …Belair Line Band. The former is not unfamiliar with The Gov main stage having played in recent weeks before Justin Townes Earle although tonight’s acoustic duo was a more suitable support than the full band was on that occasion.
As Robert Forster walks onstage to set up, a woman in the audience exclaims, “He’s real” to which Robert responds by repeating this as a question with mild disbelief and then adds, “I’ve always been real”. He mentions that Adelaide is the start of his world tour (there are only three dates listed on the tour poster, but this is clarified later) and starts with Baby Stones from his solo debut Danger in the Past. Without a pause, he plays Reach Me, the first of a sequence of Go-Betweens songs that continues with Born To A Family, introduced as a song for those who know nothing about him. After I’m Alright, he returns to his solo material for I Love Myself (And I Always Have) which he describes as his most requested song that most people relate to. This introduction is a joke but there is something in the almost throwaway lyric that seems to encapsulate what Robert is all about with his onstage presence of pursed lips and frequent seemingly bemused facial expressions.
Resuming the Go-Betweens songs, Here Comes A City is intense, energetic and dynamic, threatening to lyrically transform into Proud Mary before it finishes. Robert’s wife Karin Bäumler joins him to play violin for Bow Down and “another song in 4/4… that’s musician talk for a waltz”, Demon Days. As Karin starts to sing, in this context amongst the songs performed from his former band, I see an ersatz although less weathered, more gracefully aged Amanda Brown. “Track two, side two” is how Robert introduces Remain, the first song to be played from his latest album Inferno after nearly half the set has lapsed (and to break it down further, just over half of those so far have been Go-Betweens songs).
The House That Jack Kerouac Built captivates with sinister melodic instrumental interplay between guitar and violin before Karin leaves Robert to play Darlinghurst Nights solo and the contrasting laid back vibe invites audience participation. Robert describes this song written in 2004 as a reflection upon the time and circumstances for the Go-Betweens in the 1980s. “Side two, track five” is Robert’s similarly themed introduction to another Inferno track and highlight One For the Birds, a new song that seems uncannily familiar as though it could almost be an old Go-Betweens song re-recorded. Spring Rain continues the predominance of Go-Betweens songs performed tonight from Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express and by the end of the show half of that album has been performed, comprising a quarter of the set. The song lends itself to audience participation with more than a hint of backing vocals from offstage.
Karin returns and Robert comments that things are going well before he states, “this is the last time I’ll do this… track one, side two” and “this is the only time I’ll play lead break tonight” which he subsequently does during another song from Inferno, Life Has Turned A Page. Karin contributes glockenspiel giving the song a lullaby quality and Robert could be paraphrasing Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair with the lyrical coda “Rosemary, Thyme and a little bit of Sage”.
The title track, Inferno (Brisbane in Summer) is played and then Robert returns to the Go-Betweens back catalogue for Grant McLennan’s In The Core Of A Flame, with the prominence of Karin’s violin reminding me of another Grant McLennan song that came later on 16 Lover’s Lane: Was There Anything I Could Do? I reconsider the song in this context as a musical if not lyrical precursor to the latter as it is played tonight without the primal bass and drums rhythm section of the recorded version.
Robert abandons a brief attempt at retuning (“Who cares about retuning… It’s overrated”) before Learn To Burn, an early Beach Boys sounding Highway 61-esque rocker with interjections by Karin on violin ends the main set.
A song about “two songwriters that look like Kris Kristofferson in denim that break out of jail”, Songwriters On The Run is the first in the encore. The Go-Betweens’ Head Full of Steam ends with a violin refrain that seems to borrow from Here Comes The Sun while the penultimate song A Poet Walks is introduced as being a song about “urban anxiety’ and evokes a sinister mariachi feel. Robert describes the night as an “incredible first show of the world tour” (a tour that includes a couple more shows over the next few of days and a month off before his first shows in America for eleven years). Preceding the last song he asks people to come over and meet him later (“in four – no three minutes”) and make suggestions on how he can play better. The set comes to a close with the “da da” audience sing along to Surfing Magazines, Robert appreciative for the offstage contribution provided.
Robert Forster has generally not been underestimated by dedicated, reverential Go-Betweens fans except, I confess, by myself but I have made a reevaluation in recent years with the release of the Grant & I book and Right Here documentary. I was very much looking forward to seeing him live and I am glad to write that with tonight’s show, my expectations were exceeded.
Live Review by Jason Leigh