Music From The Home Front shows the power of keeping things simple

Review of Home Front, which included Mark Seymour.

Author:  Dan Condon, Double J.

Date: 27 April 2020.

Original URL: https://www.abc.net.au/doublej/music-reads/features/music-from-the-home-front-ruel-tame-impala-jimmy-barnes/12188994

 

Article Text

Music From The Home Front shows the power of keeping things simple

The novelty of Zoom wears thin, but the quality of these songs will endure forever.

The electricity that occurs when musicians perform together cannot be replicated. We’ve known this for generations; it’s such a magical energy that we would bottle it if we could.

It’s that kind of spirit that compels artists to try making their records live in the studio. It’s the vibe that keeps us returning to see bands play gigs and festivals, even when we’ve seen them a dozen times before.

It’s an electricity that cannot be beamed through Zoom.

Music From The Home Front, an Anzac Day performance televised across Australia and New Zealand, featuring some of the biggest names from both nations, was never going to please everyone.

The disparate choice of acts ensured every household could level Gogglebox-style snipes at some stage during the broadcast.

Ben Lee performed ‘We’re All In This Together’ (which felt like a missed opportunity to Rick-roll the nation and play ‘Catch My Disease’) and it immediately felt uncomfortable.

Lee was joined by a large cast of auxiliary musicians and backing singers, all Brady Bunched onto the screen in a way that took the attention off pretty much everyone.

It was a kind gesture to involve frontline health care workers, but there was so much going on that it didn’t feel like the tribute really landed.

Jimmy Barnes’ slowed down ‘Working Class Man’ suffered similar issues. Too slick, too disconnected.

Usually I’d just move on here, but I have a bone to pick with Barnesy on this one.

For weeks, he has pretty much led the charge of musicians doing creative live streams. Along with his wife Jane, they have broadcast some of the most poignant, funny, gorgeous and spine-chilling music of the isolation era.

He overthought this one, as well as the closing version of ‘When The War Was Over’. The aim is to bring people together in isolation, but you don’t need video conferencing software to do that.

Rather than make this a laundry list of Zoom-fuelled crimes again Australian music history – sadly there were many – it’s worth examining what did work.

Keep It Simple, Kevin

If I could’ve experienced any of Saturday’s performances in the flesh, I’d be in Mark Seymour’s garage in an instant.

That was where Seymour and his old mate James Reyne performed two stone cold classics together, conjuring that feted collaborative electricity where it was lacking so sorely elsewhere.

The Zoom backing singers in ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ were not necessary, and the lack of them in ‘Reckless’ made it the better performance by some distance.

Two artists, two guitars, two voices, two songs: too good.

When Kevin Parker’s name appeared on the first announcement for this massive show last week, even the biggest Tame Impala fans had no idea what he’d bring to the table in such an odd setting.

His heavily produced, meticulously layered psychedelic pop is tricky enough to pull off with a full live band; how was he going to make it work solo?

Parker’s performance of ‘On Track’ was the understated highlight of the entire concert. A gripping performance that deserves genuine plaudits for its quality, but also an unassuming and unpretentious one.

The guy even coughed in the middle of a verse! This wasn’t live, he could’ve started again, but Parker knew the power of capturing that lightning in a bottle. Who cares if he coughs when the performance is beautiful and full of soul? The soul that vanishes the second you ask your guitarist to install Zoom.

Young heartthrob Ruel was just as good. For all we know he might’ve done 35 takes of ‘Free Time’, it doesn’t matter. What we got was a young man with a potentially world-conquering voice, an appropriately distant guitarist, a great song, and no gimmicks. Perfect.

Young guns Tones And I and G Flip both had the right idea, but this is not comfortable territory for them. They made a great fist of bringing their heavily looped live shows to the screen, but it didn’t naturally translate.

The best of the rest

Of the isolated collabs, Shane Howard performing ‘Solid Rock’ with Emma Donovan and Vika and Linda had a shambolic spirit to it that made it feel a bit more real than their overtly polished peers.

DMA’S performance of ‘Better Be Home Soon’ indirectly gave me heartburn. I’d groaned so heavily at the prospect of the cover that I felt compelled to eat my hat by the final chorus: they did good. Real good.

They did a gorgeous version of ‘Better Be Home Soon’ – the kind of classic melodic sing-along the band have always taken inspiration from.

Other understated collaborations – like those of Missy Higgins and Tim Minchin, or Delta Goodrem and Colin Hay – come closer to capturing the magic of working together than someone like Vance Joy, who also tries to do way too much.

Paul Kelly’s voice was too low, though for some reason we got a really good look at his wrist for the entire performance, thanks to a camera focused on it.

Courtney Barnett suffered the same vocal issue; it didn’t make ‘Depreston’ any less great, but it would certainly have impeded on how much her performance cut through.

Vocal levels were also an issue for Dave Dobbyn. Well, it would have been, if the whole of Australia and New Zealand weren’t singing along loud enough to make up for it. Dobbyn delivered us a ‘Slice Of Heaven’ with nothing but his voice and his Fender Strat, and it was all he needed.

And it wouldn’t be right to not mention Bliss and Eso’s drone footage which somehow even overshadowed a guest appearance by the great Kate Ceberano. It felt a bit like they were overcompensating, but it certainly gave us something to talk about.

Let the songs speak

The way musicians choose to present their music at any time is of course up to them. The very fact that so many incredible artists contributed to the event was heart-warming and yet another example of the music industry stepping up when the chips are down.

But to emerge from such an event without learning a thing or too would be a great shame.

From this, hopefully some of our more prominent artists will learn that less is so often more when it comes to music; especially when you have amazing source material.

Because, while the novelty of isolated collaboration will wear off (if it hasn’t already), the quality of great songs will never die.

 

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