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Gig Review: Powderfinger @ The Sidney Myer Music Bowl, 29th October

Powderfinger played their last Melbourne show to a sold out, enormous, and lovestruck crowd at the Sidney Music Bowl last night. It was a fitting farewell to the Australian music stalwarts, who played a remarkably well balanced set full of old classics. They overcame the inherent problems of playing a venue such as the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to put on one hell of a show and bow out with class and style.

I had no interest in seeing Jet, so arrived just before Powderfinger were due to take to the stage. It was my second show at this venue, and it is undeniably a strange place to watch live music. A simply massive grass slope leads towards the stage, before breaking into an orchestra pit, which for this show was set up with seats. In other words, those with seated tickets are closer to the stage than those with General Admission, who instead had to gather around the makeshift barrier that had been set up beyond the orchestra pit, an age away from the stage.

On the bright side however, there was no push whatsoever towards the front, so despite my late arrival I was able to spot a few mates in the crowd and stroll right onto the barrier, which made for quite a good vantage point. Before I had time to catch my breath, Powderfinger took to the stage.

I’m going to get the very few negative points out the way. Firstly, there is no escaping the fact that the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is not designed for rock concerts. I understand that Powderfinger put on this extra show to ensure every single fan that wanted to see them live could, but there were still a lot of problems with their choice of venue, which meant that the atmosphere in the crowd moved between chilled and slightly disinterested, only picking up when the band made their way to a secondary stage later in the show. Also, they inexplicably didn’t play one of my favourite songs of theirs, Love Your Way.

Anyway, now that’s over with, it really was a great show.

It was a bit of a lackluster start to the set with newer songs that included Burn Your Name and Lost And Running, however things picked up nicely with the iconic Sunsets, which the tour is suitably named after.

“Slow burn, watching the world turn, from my arms. New way, of measuring each day, until it’s gone.”

As the sun set in the night sky visible above the towering stage canopy and tens of thousands of voices sung loudly from the grassy slope, for a moment the choice of venue made perfect sense.

And the crowd was simply massive. This must have been among the biggest crowds the band have ever played to at a headline gig, if only because it is probably one of the biggest capacity venues they have ever played at. Selling out the Sidney Myer Music Bowl is an incredible achievement, and is a testament to Powderfinger’s career. It was obvious that even the band members were occasionally in awe of the sheer scope of the thing, gesturing out towards the crowd that surrounded them on all sides. It was quite a sight, and if I had to guess I would say there was easily 20,000 people in the crowd.

It was all the more remarkable, therefore, when Bernard Fanning spotted an ex-girlfriend of his towards the front of the crowd, which led to some very entertaining banter about how she had dumped him in year twelve for a guy who liked The Smiths. I haven’t always been completely endeared with Bernard as a frontman when I have seen the band previously, but he was in his element last night, and had no problems whatsoever in charming the entire crowd.

The band were briefly joined on stage by another band who have played with Powderfinger extensively in the past (I don’t remember their name, feel free to help me out), for a simply stunning rendition of The Metre. It was a wonderful surprise considering they rarely play it live nowadays, and went some way to making up for the lack of Love Your Way as an opener, which had been a constant for the ‘Sunsets’ tour.

The next few songs blurred together a bit for me, and my setlist will definitely be a bit off. I remember Passenger, My Kind Of Scene, and Pick You Up however. The band briefly disappeared from the main stage only to reappear on a makeshift secondary stage directly in front of the General Admission audience and only a couple of meters in front of me. Finally, the atmosphere really lifted. Plus it was rather remarkable to listen to the delay between the acoustic drumming and the speakers, which created a very odd double-drumming effect for those at the front.

Unfortunately the stay was brief however, and after wonderfully energetic renditions of Like A Dog and Stumblin’ (which was probably my highlight of the set), an awesome drum solo took place as the rest of the band made their way back onto the main stage.

It was time for some more classics, and Thrilloilogy made a welcome appearance, before the timeless song of My Happiness saw tens of thousands of voices once again singing in unison. Far too soon, the band departed the stage without much fuss, but quickly reappeared for a three-song encore that climaxed with (Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind, probably the most energetic track of the night that was played on the main stage. The band were starting to get a bit visibly emotional by this time, and it was clear that they were suitably appreciative of the crowd. “We sincerely thank you for all the support over the years,” said Bernard. “We have loving played at your town”.

They departed once again, but there was the sense that there was unfinished business (or, as the people standing behind me put it, “FUCKING PLAY THESE DAYS!”). After a few minutes pause, just at the point where I was becoming uncertain if they would return, Powderfinger were back for one last song. And sure enough they fucking played These Days. It was a magic experience, as the crowd on the slope took over lead vocals and almost completely drowned out the band. It was at once surreal, beautiful, and very sad. I had goosebumps throughout the entire song, and I can think of no better way to farewell the ‘finger.

“This life, well it’s slipping right through my hands. These days turned out nothing like I had planned.”

And just like that the show, and Powderfinger, were over. Of course they still have a few more shows to play around the country before finishing with what will no doubt be a very emotional show in their hometown of Brisbane, but this was their farewell to Melbourne. They are a band that have had their ups and downs, and certainly aren’t universally liked, but they will be sorely missed. They were my first ever proper gig, so many years ago at an excruciatingly hot Festival Hall, so it seemed fitting to see their last Melbourne show on “The one day of Summer we get every year”, according to Bernard, as Powderfinger said farewell with a thoroughly enjoyable show and, above all else, grace.

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17 Responses to “Gig Review: Powderfinger @ The Sidney Myer Music Bowl, 29th October”

  1. Little Red was on at the same time! They were so much better.

  2. I was at the gig last night too, and the atmosphere of the entire thing was pretty friggen amazing. You should have been there for JET, they played a great show, but it was obvious that the audience wasn’t there for them.

  3. I have to disagee on the comment that the mood moved between chilled and disintersted. Were you at the same concert i was at? The venue was awesome, the atmosphere was amazing and the gig has already been described by at least 1 reviewer as the best live show powderfinger have ever played in australia. It was a truly amazing night and what a way to farewell melbourne

    • Yeah I was. It’s this thing called opinion, different people have different ones. Just because another reviewer described it as their best Australian show (a pretty absurd comment from one reviewer anyway) doesn’t mean it was, just like my opinion doesn’t make yours any less valid and vice versa.

      And my review is extremely positive in all, it’s really strange how people fixate on the one negative thing I say. For me shows like this can just never come close to more intimate shows where you can get closer to the band. But that’s just me.

  4. jet were shite before hand

    “free” seated tickets were pretty swell…till we realised we were in andy lee and megan gale’s seats, haha. they were pretty chill though.

    and ranga, little red are no good indoors. that is all.

  5. by shite, I mean, eh – unless you’re a jet fan

  6. Did anyone else see the first band Blackchords? I thought they were amazing. First time I had heard of them but their set absolutely rocked. Great to see new Melbourne bands like this given a chance on a big stage. I thought Powderfinger were great!

  7. great night, great venue, but do agree that the sound quality for those on lawns was poor at times and muffled. It did make my experience at times become a bit disinterested, especially when you can hear most of the people on the hill talking louder than the music.

  8. Good review and I had a similar experience at Sydney’s Entertainment Centre. Couldn’t agree more about Jet – hard to stomach their set.

  9. Great review! I saw them at Rod Laver and didn’t write a review – maybe I should?
    Pity they did not play Love Your Way.
    These Days was by far my fave, but it does not work on the CD of their concert :(
    You write so well.

  10. Dude – why did you bother? Your “seats” weren’t great, you didn’t like the crowd, you haven’t liked Bernard as the frontman, complain about the set, complain about the venue, couldn’t pick Tiddas and didn’t even bother to show up to support the support bands. The gig wasn’t Powderfinger’s best ever but this is a perfect example of a hack writer who thinks they are music “press” because they can start a blog and post shitty camera phone photos. Go back to reviewing Australia Idol runners up at shopping centres mate.

    • Hmm where to start?
      1. I never claim to be part of your fabled ‘music press’, I just put hundreds of hours into writing a blog and ask for absolutely nothing in return, which for some reason makes dickheads like you think you have some kind of right to abuse me.
      2. I don’t understand- you say it wasn’t their best show, but yet you complain about every little criticism I make in what is a very positive review?
      3. I didn’t have seats.
      4. Why would I go to see a support act I have seen live before and know I hate?
      5. Criticism is a valid response to a show, even in this case if my review was very positive. If you’re just going to say everything was flawless then what’s the point?
      6. I don’t understand why you’d bother leaving a comment like this. It’s not even remotely constructive criticism, which I welcome of course. If you hate my website that much then just fuck off, no-one is forcing you to read this and it’s not like you’re paying for it. Stick to your music press.

      To be honest though when I see comments like yours you do raise a very good point: why do I bother?

      • Well put. There’s too many yes men writing in the music press. I can’t remember the last time I read a review that wasn’t 100% positive on any of the big websites or magazines… Power to you.

    • Obviously ‘Dee’ didn’t actually read your review. Funny enough Lachy, I know when I review, the more negative commentary I get, the happier I am. It’s a sign of decisive writing.

  11. Great review! I can’t believe I’ve missed my chance to see them here in Melbourne. Sounds like quite a long setlist; good job for not staying for Jet ;)

    An aside: chin up! One or two of the above comment authors need to be slapped in the face with a phallus.

  12. Now I’m a 90s kid, so this might be an obvious answer for those who were born in the 80s, but what was the song played over the PA right at the end, when they showed the photo slideshow and the band left?

    • I believe it was “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode. I spent ages searching for that song because out of all the bloody great Powderfinger songs played that night (and JET), it was ‘Oh I just can’t get enough’ that kept repeating itself in my head.

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