Ella Hooper, Emily Barker @ Wonderland Spiegeltent at Wonderland Festival Hub, Adelaide 24/2/2023

Nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of the CBD is a true Adelaide Fringe Wonderland.

The Wonderland Spiegeltent Festival Hub located in Hindmarsh Square/ Mukata is the home of the Wonderland Spiegeltent. For one night only, it was also the home of Ella Hooper.

On the final leg of her Small Town Temple Tour, Hooper and her band brought the energy. Celebrating the release of her new album Small Town Temple, the title track kicked off festivities with a bang.

Backed by Mads Davey on keys, Mic Hubbard on guitar, Mat Watson on drums and Nic on bass, seventy minutes flew by in a flurry of sensational music and entertaining banter.

Grow Wild captured the essence of Small Town Temple, the reminiscence of youth. Old News was a timely reminder that “everything old is new again”. Words Like These are ruminations of past love. While The Basics and Stuff was an homage to Hooper’s brother and long-time musical collaborator, Jesse.

Departing from current album tracks, The Verses’ The Winter was more than a pleasant addition to the set list. It was truly spectacular. As was Low High from Hooper’s debut solo album In Tongues (2014). Although she indicated she was struggling with her vocals, it wasn’t obvious. In fact, the opposite was true. The rich intensity of her range was spine-tingling.

The notion of family is deeply embedded within Small Town Temple. Hooper brought the same sentimentality to the stage. Reflecting on a life-changing 2022, she spoke with vulnerability and deep love about her family. In particular, the ongoing influence of her parents. Me & Magdalena (The Monkees) may have seemed like an odd song to cover. But it made sense once we understood the connection to Hooper’s childhood.

Love in the Time of Cowardice saw support act Emily Barker join on stage to sing backing vocals. For those lucky to arrive early to the Wonderland Garden, Barker’s performance occurred on the Showman’s Bar Stage due to “Spiegeltent complexities,” Hooper politely explained. She wasn’t wrong with this description.

As beautiful as the venue was, the Fringe environment required quick changes between acts. This relegated Barker to the garden, while Hooper and her band were consigned to a relatively small stage at the back of the Spiegeltent. Given there was a much larger stage in the middle of the tent, it was peculiar and a little unfortunate that the musicians weren’t permitted to perform on it. Regardless of venue logistics, we were privy to memorable performances.

Long Gully Road was the final low-tempo, sentimental moment of the show. Then a wildly raucous cover of Rod Stewart’s You Wear It Well lifted an already enthusiastic atmosphere. Conscious of time, Hooper emphasised, “I don’t want to piss off the burlesque dancers,” who were next to perform. She still managed to squeeze in one last song much to everyone’s delight. Oh My Goddess! about wrestling with inner demons not only shook them out in this rendition but exorcised them out of the stratosphere! It was an idyllic end to the show and national tour.

Ella Hooper is a national treasure, an icon of Australian music, and on Friday night she demonstrated exactly why she isn’t Old News.

Live Review By Anita Kertes

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