Carrying beach chairs, throw rugs, eskys and children, thousands streamed onto the vast lawns of the Melbourne Zoo for the second night of this year’s Zoo Twilights summer sessions. Nestled amongst tress and monkey enclosures, pop-up food stalls and cocktail bars kept those who forgot to pack the customary cheese platter sustained, whilst everyone else settled down to a homemade picnic as close as they could get to the stage.
Sydney trio Little May were the night’s support act, bringing their breezy blend of indie/pop to the blanketed masses. Having supported Detroit guitar virtuoso Rodriguez late last year, and being about to embark on a national February tour with Australian brother and sister duo Angus & Julia Stone, Little May are certainly making a name for themselves on the Australian indie music scene.
Lead singer Hannah Field took to the microphone, dressed head-to-toe in black lace and denim and flanked by her blonde guitarists Liz Drummond and Annie Hamilton. Playing an oversized cream Gretsch guitar, Drummond shared in the homely harmonies, singing songs from last year’s self-titled EP.
Triple J hits ‘Dust’ and ‘Bones’ made the setlist first, before a few newbies were thrown in. Field described latest single ‘Hide’ as being about “the moment when you really like someone, and they like you but not as much. So, to show you they don’t like you that much they hug and kiss other people”. It got a laugh, and not before she cutely added “yeah that’s happened to a few of us but we’re over it now!”
Like a watered-down Fleetwood Mac or First Aid Kit, the trio sung of young love and getting back to nature, with touring drummer Cat Hunter and bass/keys player Mark Harding intently watching each other as they synchronised swelling rhythmic beats and riffs.
Then the headliner wandered on stage. With very little fanfare, Bernard Fanning emerged to a rapturous applause, casual in black skinny leg jeans and a jean jacket. With his hair greying and fluffy, he looked remarkably similar to a Bee Gee. “You’re a God, Bernard!”, a front-row fan called out, to which Fanning quickly quipped “I am not a dog!” with a cheeky chuckle, much to the amusement of the crowd.
He opened the set with a new ballad ‘Unpicking A Puzzle’ and introduced his middle-aged band as The Palominos – a word, he said his wife explained, that actually means “skid-marks” in Spanish. He followed up with the titular track off 2013’s Departures, with the band – made up of Andrew Morris, John Bedggood, Matt Engelbrecht and Declan Kelly – seamlessly transitioning between Fanning songs as they were let loose to revel in slide guitar solos and riffs.
For casual Powderfinger fans, it was clear this was not going to be a concert of radio hits (with ‘My Happiness’ and ‘These Days’ unfortunate notable absences). Fanning peppered his half-acoustic/half-electric set with brand new songs ‘Reckless’ and ‘Belly of the Beast’.
Little May joined him on stage for the latter, with Fanning pointing out the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the dismal state of Australian politics as the inspiration behind the passionate, politically motivated song. The Brisbane native also relished the opportunity to break the news on stage later on in the night that Campbell Newman had lost his seat.
Not even a typically Melbourne downpour or two could dampen the crowd’s spirits – they put on hoodies and ponchos, kept calm and carried on! Tea & Sympathy (Fanning’s hugely successful debut solo album from 2005) featured heavily in the set, with a staggering nine songs including the hits ‘Wish You Well’ and ‘Songbird’ performed in the set. Old favourites like these motivated everyone to get up and sing. ‘Which Way Home’ and ‘Not Finished Just Yet’ were given new life in the form of a richer guitar sound, with extended jams and solos throughout.
Moving to the keyboard at the back of the stage, Fanning strapped on a harmonica to play the opening track from Powderfinger’s album Odyssey Number Five, ‘Waiting for the Sun.’ For long-time fanatics who thought they’d never hear the song played live again, it was a special moment. The almost exclusively piano version gave the song a whole new feel, but remained mostly true to the original with signature claps (initiated by the audience) erupting before the final chorus.
The night wrapped up the night with an awesome cover of the recently departed Joe Cocker song ‘The Letter’ – with the crowd on their water-soaked feat and husky-voiced Morris taking over as lead vocalist. Fanning was freed up to move about the stage with his guitar, smiling and singing with his band, before joining Morris in the finale.
Despite the exclusion of a few bona fide hits, overall it was a night of great Australian musicianship, with Fanning front and centre at a civilised party for the young and old… and the animals.
(Article photograph taken at the Taronga Zoo Twilight Sessions)