Vote 1, Powderfinger


Sunsets – Farewell Tour
Rod Laver Arena, 10 September 2010

(C) Ellen SmithWhen Powderfinger decided to pull the plug on a 20 year career, singer Bernard Fanning admitted that performing was starting to become mundane. The band was feeling fatigued and the idea of a complete split – not merely a hiatus – was the most attractive option.

From watching them at Rod Laver Arena last night, though, one gets the impression they may have made the wrong choice. Fanning and co. showed no signs of weariness during their two hour set. Likewise the 12,000 strong crowd were reluctant to let the Australian music legends go, crying out for two encores before the five-piece finally stood to take their farewell bows.

Earlier in the night The Vasco Era and Jet whet the crowd’s appetite. While drawing a relatively modest crowd The Vasco Era produced a lively performance. Singer Sid O’Neil’s self-indulgent cover of Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay seemed a touch out of place amidst an otherwise noisy set, yet this was arguably the band’s most memorable moment. Also in contention was an instant where O’Neil exclaimed his admiration for the Melbourne audience, recounting that this crowd was yet to scream “Bring on Jet”. An opportunist promptly repeated O’Neil’s mocking words, leaving the singer on the defensive. “That doesn’t count,” he added sheepishly, before prodding forwards with another song.

Despite boasting as many international sales as the headline act, Jet knew their place. Lead vocalist Nic Cester continually thanked Powderfinger for the opportunity, but there were no apologies from the rising stars as they entertained the growing audience. Cester’s cigarette-fuelled vocals were surprisingly respectable – save for a cringeworthy version of Seventeen – but the influence of alcohol was evident in the band’s inconsistent timing. What they lacked in tempo, however, was made up for by a repertoire of familiar hits. My neighbour – a flamboyant middle-aged man – assisted their cause by treating his seat like a trampoline. A domino effect caused my seat to follow suit, leaving me infected – if not annoyed – with the man’s over-enthusiasm.

Unlike their predecessors – both of whom relied on fancy stage work – Powderfinger didn’t need to pull any tricks to win over the crowd. That’s what their music was for. As veteran performers, they were always comfortable in the limelight. Extravagant sideshows were minimal, as were pretentious acts of self-centredness. On the contrary, Powderfinger looked a lot like a bunch of mates with a love for performance.

Fanning comfortably spoke to his adoring supporters, singling out specific fans for personal thank-yous. Every one of his words elicited a mass cheer from the faithful, including a cheeky jibe at Melbourne Storm. With a touch of harmless arrogance he later exclaimed “We’re friend again. Remember, you’re our people,” causing the crowd to erupt. It’s no surprise that Fanning came second in a preferred prime minister poll conducted earlier this year. If he was the leader of the Coalition, they undoubtedly would have scored a victory.

Guitarist – and lesser known member – Darren Middleton’s face painted an awe-struck expression throughout the concert. At times, he could be seen shaking his head in disbelief; these days evidently turned out nothing like he’d planned. With sincerity he was the man to thank – and photograph – the adoring crowd at every opportunity. If Bernard Fanning is the most votable man in rock, then surely Middleton must be the nicest.

Powderfinger’s connection with their audience – and with one another – was exemplified during the show’s unexpected intermission. As an eclectic Cold War-cum-boxing montage distracted the audience the band escaped to an alternate stage of smaller proportions. Here, fans were granted closer interaction to their idols, in a pub-rock-esque fashion. A drum and bass solo kept the audience second and third guessing, before Fanning revealed himself back on the main platform with just his acoustic guitar.

With a reliable back catalogue spanning two decades the five-piece unit kept the crowd on their feet. There was no real structure to their setlist; songs from the group’s relatively unknown release Double Allergic were interpolated with their current radio hits. Some received less fanfare than others, such as Darren Middleton’s rendition of (The Return of) The Electric Horseman – which left the majority of fans speechless. Likewise epic non-singles Capoicty and Thrilloilogy received few echoes from the audience, but were nonetheless treated with utmost reverence. My Happiness, on the other hand, initiated a mass sing-a-long that continued into the encores.

What remained constant throughout all this was Powderfinger’s musical execution. The band may have struggled to teach their Double Allergic material to their mainstream audiences, but they never failed to entertain. A stunning video and light display further enhanced the spectacle. Powderfinger could have potentially filled another two hours with recognisable numbers. Only three songs from the band’s finals two albums made the cut, while time constraints prevented more cult hits from the two breakthrough records Internationalist and Double Allergic. Nevertheless, enough was done to satisfy the audience; the four encores only added extra rewards to a show already high in value.

Despite being a longtime ‘Finger fan this was the first and last chance – provided they don’t do a John Farnham – I had to see the band. However, it didn’t take me long to catch on to the audience’s emotional sentiment. So much so, that I was almost stubborn enough to refuse saying goodbye. After the second encore had concluded, I continued to naively hope for the band to make one final appearance. Sunsets was one of those concerts I wished could last forever. Unfortunately, like the band, all good things must come to an end.