Thornbury Theatre, Friday 26 October, 2012
Robert Forster is not a great guitar player, as I’m sure he would concede. His limited repertoire of six-string moves consists of simple chords strummed as gently or frenetically as the song demands. Sure, he throws in the odd lick and rhythmic flourish here and there, but he essentially sticks to the basics. His voice is expressive, but his vocal range is limited, and it often sounds as though he’s speaking his lyrics rather than singing them. On paper you wouldn’t think he’d be suited to the solo singer/songwriter gig, yet his superlative songwriting ability more than compensates for what he lacks in technique and musicianship. How does he extract so much out of such an apparently limited technical palette?
Armed with just an acoustic guitar, and his wit, Forster seduced the enthusiastic crowd at the Thornbury Theatre by playing an eclectic crowd-pleasing set, which drew heavily on his glory days with the Go-Betweens, one of a group of outstandingly talented Australian bands from the 1980s who struggled to find mainstream success in their own country. Forster’s solo set covered a lot of ground, from melodic classics like ‘Spring Rain’ to quirky oddities like ‘Surfing Magazines’ to more wistful ruminations of the past in the form of ‘Darlinghurst Nights.’ He delivers his wry, literate lyrics are with confidence, and, more often than not, a laconic sense of irony. He also does a good line in witty stage patter (his observation that the thin black jumper is the male equivalent to the ubiquitous little black dress seemed to go down especially well with the mainly middle-age crowd who seemed to know most of Forster’s lyrics by heart).
The highlight of the evening was Forster’s rendition of ‘Street of Your Town’ — a song written and sung by the late Grant McLennan, Forster’s long-time friend and collaborator. McLennan had a great gift for melody, and Forster made a self-deprecating remark about his ability to do this Go-Betweens gem justice. He needn’t have worried, for he acquitted himself admirably with a little help from the audience whose background vocals sounded pitch-perfect — yes, there was a lot of love in the room. Another great gig at a wonderfully atmospheric venue.