Conor Oberst at Twilight at Taronga
What do you usually see outside a gig? Middle-aged, dodgy-as-fuck geezers in white Reeboks perpetually looking to “buy or sell tickets”? It’s not the most pleasing aesthetic. The Twilight at Taronga shows differ somewhat, as the vista is far more pleasant. First, you get a free ferry ride past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, then you stroll through the zoo grounds where tree kangaroos and monkeys peek out at you and finally, at the entrance to the natural amphitheatre… an elephant! Just hanging out in his enclosure. Amazing.
Even more amazing for the Something You Said team was the line-up of musical genius on display last Friday night. Not one, but two of our ALL-TIME favourite acts were playing and, get this, they were all onstage at the same time. Goodness, did we swoon.
First up were The Felice Brothers. They’ve been minus drummer and co-songwriter Simone Felice for a while (he left the band to pursue a solo career and also to front The Duke & the King), so their set-lists remain influenced by this (plenty of their early songs are his, in so much as he would lead the vocals on them). Notwithstanding, even without his strong presence, they still continue to be a breathtaking live act. Lead vocalist Ian Felice has an incredible voice. Rough and cracked like Bob Dylan, it tells good ol’ fashioned American yarns, backed up with accordion and violin. Their songs ranged from exuberant hoedowns to ruminative numbers, while four different vocalists took the lead as-and-when. Actually, make that five vocalists, as during Wonderful Life, a certain Conor Oberst popped out from behind the curtain and, hidden behind sunglasses, delivered a verse (pictured, top). “I don’t know who that was,” joked Ian Felice. “Apologies.”
The favour was repaid, with The Felice Brothers making up the headliner’s backing band as Oberst performed a set which dipped into his extensive back catalogue, while also showcasing his latest tunes. With Oberst, it’s all about two things: the vocal and the lyrics. His voice, always seemingly on the verge of cracking, paradoxically sounded really strong and bold as he belted out songs that would have kept the seals, the giraffes and our old mate the elephant up past their bedtimes. And his tunes were enhanced by having “the best band in the world” (Oberst’s words) playing with him. Tunes like Another Traveling Song were perfect for the Felice’s style and sounded absolutely magnificent. Conversely, when the band temporarily departed and he played on his own, the result was spine-tingling. First Day of My Life brought a veil of silence over the audience and was truly something special “Yours is the first face that I saw/I think I was blind before I met you”.
After the set highlight of Easy/Lucky/Free – which built to a dizzying crescendo – came a couple of well-earned encores, before it was time for us all to head home. Sure enough, the elephant was still up as the crowds strolled to the exit. It was hard to tell if he enjoyed the show but, if not, he was the only one who didn’t.
For the rest of us, it was an honour to be in the presence of such gifted, talented and honest musicians while the city’s lights twinkled in the distance. A stunning night filled with magic.
Below are the remaining shows at Twilight at Taronga. .
Friday 13 March – DAN SULTAN, supported by Benny Walker and Pierce Brothers
Saturday 14 March – JAMES MORRISON BIG BAND
Friday 20 March – SOMETHING FOR KATE, supported by Jen Cloher
Saturday 21 March – ROSS WILSON and MENTAL AS ANYTHING
For more deets and to grab tickets visit: twilightattaronga.org.au
Review by Bobby Townsend.