This Halloween night, Bernard Fanning owned the Palais Theatre. His newest record Civil Dusk has been collecting accolades since it’s release in August. Unlike most Monday crowds, the laid-back vibe turned to high heels and cuff links. Some of the patrons knew Bernard’s Powderfinger work, but some only knew his latest 2 records (Departures & Civil Dusk). Supported by Ainslie Wills and Dustin Tebbutt, we were set to have a winning show.

Dressed in black, Ainslie Wills took to the stage first, making casual banter and expertly hitting every high note like it’s just another Monday night. A new song ‘Maiden Voyage’ seemed a champion with the crowd. ‘Fighting Kind’ was also enchanting, between alt-pop and rock; swinging hips and clever lyrics. Ainslie’s a girl to keep your eye on – catch her if you can.

A short break later, Dustin Tebbutt opened his set. Dabbling in acoustic and electric guitar, smooth keyboard tunes and stories of European trips, he also seemed confident with a crowd who were mostly unfamiliar with him. ‘Don’t Run In Rain’ was iridescent, building and swirling, his voice slipping through your fingers. For the ladies he wooed, ‘Give Me Tonight’ was a home-run, chords aligning and heart thumping. Layering soft-electro loops and hymnal vocals were a common theme, so if that’s your jam, Dustin’s your man.

“Evening folks, how ya doing?” asks the golden boy upon reaching the microphone. Ears perked up and conversation lulled. Bernard Fanning had only just taken the stage with his band, The Black Fins before he announces that he’s never played the Palais before (which is quite astonishing for someone who’s performed around Australia for 25+ years).

He opened with ‘Unpicking A Puzzle’, uncovering his true colours. Fanning’s voice has such character; his words come from the heart, guitar work flowing in a natural rhythm through his fingers. ‘Departures (Blue Toowong Skies)’ – a crowd favourite – was up next, a tearful tune about his late father and late older brother. Within a few songs, The Black Fins became an obvious choice of band; they support what needs a shoulder to lean on, they embrace you wholeheartedly, they fit Fanning like a glove.

Moving back in time, ‘Not Finished Just Yet’ and ‘Songbird’ picked up the pace. Every song on Tea and Sympathy, 2005 was a hit; a single or a fan favourite. Many tunes (on the album and the night) featured violin, double bass and brush-drumming, so people boogied to the bluegrass undertones. Fanning himself even bounced around the stage. Even after all this time, he’s still got it. He excels in every way, looking smooth in his classic jeans and jacket, flawless vocals with that raspy voice and he’s still a comedian.

Soon after, BF (as he’s referred to by fans) moved to his keyboard. ‘Rush Of Blood’, another sweet melody from Civil Dusk slowed the tempo and relaxed us. Sitting back in our seats, closing our eyes, soaking up that smokey tone and nuzzling in to our loved ones. The sound quality never disappoints at the Palais, the expression of his chords, the drumming and backing vocals, everything sounds pitch perfect. So after explaining that he’d do a special rendition of a Powderfinger song, ‘Sail The Widest Stretch’, it was faultless music to our ears.

Old friend and Aussie songstress Kasey Chambers also made an appearance. On Civil Dusk, BF and KC sang ‘Sooner Or Later’, a twangin’ country jam with boot-scooting and banjo which they performed on stage. Chambers then hung around for another song, one of her own called Bittersweet’. Although it wasn’t her crowd, she was thankful and had great musical chemistry with the Powderfinger frontman.

Fanning has an eloquence and ability to connect people across a divide. He got chatting between songs; the excitement of being back in Melbourne, living in Spain or the current political climate. Like many Powderfinger songs, the Australian government and the problems within it were often a point of reference (The Day You Come or Like A Dog). As politics has reoccurring issues, he’s put them into song form again with ‘Belly Of The Beast’, receiving thunderous cheers . It’s more of a global call-to-action, to stand true to our beliefs and not let the hot shots win – a common theme, supporting the underdog.

‘Wish You Well’ – perhaps the hit of his solo career – was smashed out, followed by ‘Watch Over Me’, another triumph from Tea And Sympathy. Fanning has a way of singing everything that you wish you could say but can’t, something deep inside you, you want to express how you feel and his songs empower that. He legitimises your best and worst qualities; he knows what it’s like and he’s holding your hand to help you through it.

For his final song, he pulled out the big guns. BF began a prologue about Prince; seeing the legend perform this year, his sudden passing, the impact he had on all of us and the correlation between some Prince and Powderfinger chords. As he sat at his keyboard, he took a deep breath, The Black Fins huddled around a microphone and the lights dimmed. The chords to the classic Powderfinger track ‘These Days’ were bellowing. Before you could say “heck yes”, everybody in the audience stood up and collectively sang. The good old days of ‘The Finger were back, for a special appearance … and it was magical. After a few minutes, the stage rippled to purple and the chords which started as ‘These Days’ were uncloaked as ‘Purple Rain’ (a tribute to our Purple Prince), in a mashup. A deafening roar from the audience, he swayed on stage and we fell into each others arms. With many artists doing their takes on Prince tributes, it was truly beautiful to see someone’s personal connection with him, hidden away under an old Aussie hit. What was a night of stimulating tracks was revealed instead as a celebration of music itself …

T’was the night of Hallows Eve and all were pumped up, the crowd was a’raring as the techies set up. As the night moved along and our walls came crumbling down, Bernard Fanning and friends fell in love with our hometown. From beginning to end we got we paid for, raw and emotive, this is what we prayed for! Applause rang loud as the show finally closed, we stumbled out the door, all that was left was shadows. Bernard and Dustin and Ainslie and Co., thank you for your performance, a truly stellar show.

Setlist:

  1. Unpicking A Puzzle
  2. Toowong Skies
  3. Hope & Validation
  4. Reckless
  5. Songbird
  6. Not Finished Just Yet
  7. O.L.A.
  8. Rush Of Blood
  9. Sail The Widest Stretch (Powderfinger)
  10. Sooner or Later (with Kasey Chambers)
  11. Bittersweet (Kasey Chambers’ song)
  12. Wasting Time
  13. Jet Airliner (Steve Miller Band cover)
  14. Belly Of The Beast
  15. Wish You Well
  16. Watch Over Me
  17. These Days (Powderfinger)/Purple Rain (Prince song) – Mash up