Great Aust Songbook - David Jackson 54

Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Monday August 12, 2013 :

This was my first time attending the annual Variety charity concert that pairs classic Australian performers (of the John Paul Young/Countdown variety) and classic Australian songs (of the ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ variety). I took my seat next to a man with a shock of white hair spreading over his shoulders, sporting a dress, tights, and a woollen poncho. Sadly, he was not happy to be seatmate as he thought I was stealing the place of a friend of his who was going to show up “anytime now, she will need to sit there”. I promised to move should the elusive lady materialise, and in her absence we really became quite chummy as we eagerly awaited the night’s musical offerings.

The show opened with an overwrought performance of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and I settled in for a fabulous night. The youthful backing band, uniformly decked out in flares and tight t-shirts, launched into a medley of classic Australian rock tunes. All of a sudden, Monica Trapaga burst onto the stage, singing ‘Women in Uniform’, kitted out in a sexy policewoman’s outfit. My five-year-old, Playschool-watching self was shocked, but five-year-old me is a wuss and should get over it and enjoy Monica’s glorious performance.

Monica was our MC for the night, doing her best to get the (skewing older) crowd excited. She did ok, but Jeff Duff, taking the stage in an open glittery white suit and gold angel’s wings, did much better. His voice was strong and sassy as he pranced about singing ‘The Real Thing’. Unfortunately, all of his good work was undone by Wendy Matthews performing a slow, snoozy ballad, but she was still very warmly received. John Paul Young, Australian legend and long-time Variety ambassador, performed ‘Friday on My Mind’ with style, but this was one of the many songs where limited practise time for the band/performers was evident.

Next up came crowd favourite Shannon Noll, who shockingly performed ‘What About Me’! He was joined by the song’s original vocalist, Moving Pictures’ Alex Smith, who forgot his own lyrics and cues. But boy did he have swagger! When he shouted out “What about YOU?!” and pointed at the crowd I thought “yeah, what about me, world?!” It was all too much for my seatmate however, who exited the room and returned about 15 minutes later inexplicably reeking of garlic.

Smith made way for Guy Delandro, who opened with a bitter tale about his opportunity to write for Rick Springfield in the 80s being thwarted by his ailing mother. But he put the past behind him and flipped his long blond wig around and gave it his all, and for that, I salute him. We then had the ‘Evie’ trilogy, with Rick Price’s honeyed vocals the highlight. I yawned through the 4000th cover I’ve heard recently of ‘Into My Arms’(performed by Catherine Britt) and enjoyed Abby Dobson’s lovely version of Silverchair’s ‘After All These Years’ (Newcastle forever!)

There were so many wonderful moments, but perhaps my favourite performer of the night was the unhinged Steve Balbi. He jumped off the stage, pashed an old man, jumped back up, pashed a backing singer, he was in a pashing frenzy! He whirled and writhed and grinded the saxophonist’s leg, and afterwards introduced the next performer: “Ladies and gentlemen, the great, the beautiful… Sarah McLachlan!”. A very peeved Sarah McLeod walked on stage, called him a boofhead, and performed a raucous duet of ‘Highway to Hell’ with Angry Anderson. My night could not have been any greater. I turned to share a smile with my neighbour (whose friend never did show up), but he was missing from his seat. I scanned the aisle next to us where I saw him standing, waving his arms up and down and shaking what his mama gave him to ‘I Touch Myself’, and I think based on that alone, Variety can congratulate themselves on an extremely successful night.

Reviewer: Frances Bulley
Photographer: David Jackson

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