Zoo Twilights. Take Two. The skies were overcast but not threatening as the crowd once again trudged into Melbourne Zoo with their chairs and blankets.
The first attempt (which aptly occurred on Friday the 13th) had been cancelled due to a dangerous electrical storm, but the Sultan faithful had returned to ensure a great live music opportunity had not been missed. However, in the beginning, all eyes were still on the sky.
Support act Benny Walker popped up against the greyscale sky wearing a neon pink shirt and holding a mustard-yellow Telecaster guitar. The Echuca-born Indigenous singer-songwriter looked so relaxed and natural on stage, evoking summer holiday vibes, grooves and nostalgia in his 30-minute rock n’ roll ballad set.
Normally a solo act with an acoustic guitar, Walker was joined by a full band including bubbly drummer Cat Leahy. Leahy exchanged excited glances with Walker throughout the set, pounding the drum so energetically that it lifted her off the stool. Flanked by another lead guitarist and a soulful female back-up singer, the sound was full and the volume was loud.
Then came the main act. Dan Sultan. Entering the stage alone and with just an acoustic guitar, he played three songs unaccompanied, launching into ‘Dirty Ground’ (co-written with Paul Kelly). His voice with its gruff lilt echoed across the darkening sky, underscored beautifully by gentle roars from the lion’s den.
When the rest of his band emerged, we were up on our feet, encouraged to dance the night away to more energetic rock n’ roll numbers. Bats flew in their hundreds overhead as Sultan swapped his acoustic for an electric guitar and bellowed down the microphone in the choruses.
With a large catalogue of songs to choose from across three studio albums, Sultan picked the ones that translated the best live. From the seductively cautious ‘Rattlesnake’ to newest single ‘Kimberley Calling’, Sultan expressed each heightened sentiment with audacity and raw emotion.
He stunned with extended bluesy guitar solos, particularly showy on gritty rock number ‘Under Your Skin’ from his recent ARIA award-winning album, Blackbird. The album had just gone Gold in the country he told us, and with obvious jubilation, rambled about how lucky he felt.
He may have walked on with intense swagger, but it was a characteristic that he promised was only “for the show”. It was true. He spoke candidly between songs about how appreciative he was that touring and playing music around Australia was his job and that he got to share what he loved with so many people every night. He bolstered the bravado with tales of growing up around Parkville and dreams of performing, humbling us with his genuine appreciation for the success he is achieving.
He spoke of losing two close family friends earlier in the week and how pouring his fresh grief into the night’s set was cathartic and soothing. The encore was the infectious track ‘Letter’ from Get Out While You Can, which left everyone feel properly pumped as the cold air swept in and the stars shined at their brightest.
It was a night of swags and swagger at the Melbourne Zoo. The weather was fine, the music superb and the animalistic atmosphere just right!
Check out our recent interview with Dan at the Falls Festival!