Mark Seymour & The Undertow – Athenaeum Theatre

A positive review of Mark Seymour at the Athenaeum Theatre during the Roll Back the Stone tour.

Author:  Bryget Chrisfield,

Date: 22 July 2017.

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Mark Seymour sports an all-black ensemble tonight, complete with snazzy waistcoat. In fact every member of Mark Seymour & The Undertow got the all-black threads memo and this evening’s setlist mainly comprises songs from the band’s latest Roll Back The Stone 1985 – 2016 album, but not in tracklisted order. Seymour’s daughter Hannah scores BV duty tonight and the band leave the stage leaving Seymour to perform Holy Grail solo. At this song’s conclusion, Seymour puts forward Holy Grail as an example of when you realise your songs no longer belong to you, they belong to everyone, and we must admit that footage of sporting achievements does filter through our imaginations when we listen to this song these days. He actually acknowledges said song has turned into “a football anthem”, which makes the audience crack up.

Stripped down and given different treatments, Seymour’s songs are reinvented, living entities. The Undertow return to the stage and Seymour points out that although Master Of Spin came out about ten years ago, the song “has a strange kind of relevancy” today (Trump, perhaps?). Cameron McKenzie’s guitar work and Seymour’s daughter’s backing vocals perfectly accentuate this song. Say Goodbye is introduced with Seymour acknowledging that “something whispered to somebody else” (“You don’t make me feel like I’m a woman anymore”) inspired this irate classic and drummer Peter Maslen absolutely lets rip on the cymbals in this furious version (although we do miss the Horns Of Contempt’s brass stabs).

Seymour’s banter always makes you sit forward and take note – he’s poetically eloquent even in speech. He tell us that even though he begged Molly Meldrum, Countdown were hesitant to play Everything’s On Fire due to the song’s lyrical content “alluding to arson”. Before Seymour’s ode to his late mother, Classrooms And Kitchens, he observes, “It’s interesting how there’s no language, nothing’s spoken,” in reference to visiting his mother and sitting by her bedside as she gradually slipped away from this mortal coil.

Seymour complains about being plagued by technical difficulties throughout his career, adding that he used to think he was somehow responsible. He then mentions he’s experiencing some technical difficulties again this evening (although these largely go unnoticed from an audience perspective). And Seymour certainly does give withering side-eye when he feels one of his bandmates is stuffing up.

After intermission, True Tears Of Joy raises punters from their seats and down the side aisles for a boogie. “Good news for beautiful people” – When The River Runs Dry is a set highlight and the harmonies this evening are top-notch, with Hannah and two members of The Undertow perfectly complementing Seymour’s gravitas-steeped timbre. Seymour’s songwriting often navigates harrowing subject matter (see: Courtroom 32 and What’s A Few Men?) and his plaintive delivery drums home these messages with sensitivity. “I worked out how to write a three-chord pop song,” he admits before Throw Your Arms Around Me and there’s an appropriately enthusiastic crowd singalong (even though it’s a tad strange watching this song performed by a father/daughter combo). Seymour bigs up Dave Dobbyn, singing one of his songs, Beside You, after pointing out he has a connection with New Zealand (“the country across the ditch”).

Do You See What I See? finally breaks us and we decide to join what Seymour labels the “little community” of side-aisle dancers. As we politely excuse ourselves and attempt to exit our row, a lady huffs and puffs, even claiming she has a broken foot. We apologise but make a mental note to clock her gait later (update: there’s zero evidence of limping or moonboot when we spy this grumpster leaving, post-show).

After 30 years writing songs Seymour has amassed an impressive catalogue. Another stunning performance by one of our country’s finest singer-songwriters.