Current Issue #488

Cold Chisel at Glenelg Beach

Ian Moss, Jimmy Barnes and Phil Small

This barnstorming homecoming gig from Cold Chisel and Paul Kelly felt like the end of a beloved era, in more ways than one. 

On the first cool day in weeks of bushfire horror there was something genuinely surreal about the pop-up festival site on the Glenelg foreshore, in that this was exactly the sort of celebratory public event which Australian summers have typically been about – back before so many of us learned to fear weather reports and stiffened at the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

But along the beachfront was nothing but happy people singing along with Paul Kelly’s familiar twang as he dug into that voluminous back catalogue of straight up Australian classics – Leaps And Bounds’, To Her Door, Dumb Things, Deeper Water, all the way to the recent Firewood and Candles, though the near-solo From St Kilda To Kings Cross (accompanied only by longtime sideman and Even frontman Ash Naylor on guitar) came across as perhaps too fragile for the setting. 

As usual the highlight came as Vika Bull took lead vocals on the devastating Sweet Guy, although there was something distinctly magical about hearing the entire audience joining in the seasonal classic How To Make Gravy.

Mind you, given that this was the homecoming gig for both Kelly and Chisel it must have crossed Kelly’s mind to bust out the classic Adelaide, if only to see how the local crowd would deal with the closing diss “all the kings horses and all the kings’ men / Couldn’t drag me back again / To Adelaide”. C’mon, PK, stir the pot!

A note on the crowd: there are a lot of them. Like, thousands and thousands of them, stretching from the playground near the jetty all the way down the foreshore to the Oaks Plaza Pier, with hundreds more outside the fence line listening for free. 

So when a crowd that size sings along there is something downright devotional about it and Chisel are received in an appropriately rapturous form as they, like Kelly, play the soundtrack to Australian lives. 

Waistcoat-clad bassist Phil Small is off to one side, looking uncannily like Elon Musk. Don Walker’s grey mop is bent low as he hammers his keys. Jimmy Barnes paces the stage like a caged lion, pausing only to unleash that voice. Divinyls alumnus Charlie Drayton, in the drum slot since the 2011 passing of Steve Prestwich, gives the songs a powerful swing. And guitarist Ian Moss, as always, looks like he just wandered on stage from a suburban BBQ – at least, until those first Stratocaster licks sear through. They’re joined by an trio of backing vocalists – Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins – and local boy Dave Blight on harp pops on and off, as does Andy Bickers on sax.

A smattering of tracks from the new Blood Moon album make the cut, including the tongue in cheek Getting The Band Back Together and the searing Killing Time, but it’s the classics that everyone came to hear and this is a band who deliver what the people want. 

Choirgirl appears early, as does Rising Sun and My Baby, but it’s the last third of the set and encores which make clear just how many undeniable crackers the band have in their pocket: Saturday Night! You Got Nothing I Want! Breakfast At Sweethearts! Cheap Wine! Forever Now! Bow River! 

And I have never had a more gloriously Australian moment in my life than standing on the sand in the middle of literally thousands of voices rising as one to declare “I left my heart to the sappers ‘round Khe Sahn…” And for a band known for their hardness of their rockin’ there are plenty of grown men openly weeping during When The War Is Over and, especially, Flame Trees. Mind you, by this point the bar had been open for a long, long time. 

Or maybe, as Kangaroo Island burns away down south, they were also feeling that bittersweet sense that our nation has passed an irreversible threshold where balmy summer evenings listening to Chisel on a suburban beach will no longer be the quintessential Australian experience. As the Xmas break transforms to a time of perfectly rational fear perhaps the knowledge that this might be the last ever Cold Chisel gig in their hometown represented more than one goodbye (Astrid, goodbye).

Cold Chisel performed at Glenelg Beach on Saturday 4 January

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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