Review: Sarah Blasko at Adelaide Town Hall

A career solo artist who has yet to tour truly solo is a rarity these days. With ever-dwindling record sale proceeds and lofty touring margins, the temptation to hit the road with a battered acoustic guitar for a fan-servicing, rent-paying hit parade is a strong one. But Sarah Blasko has never really been that kind of singer-songwriter, and as we enter the Adelaide Town Hall there’s little expectation that this will be a typical solo performance.

Melbourne’s Fraser A. Gorman wins over the crowd as much with his wry between-song patter as the tunes themselves. Sheepishly fronting up to the Town Hall’s grandeur resembling, in his words, a “14 year old Bob Dylan in double denim”, Gorman’s songs sit comfortably in the Australian singer/songwriter tradition that has warmed front bars and workers clubs since time immemorial — or the release of Paul Kelly’s Post at least.

Blasko arrives to a silent stage, stepping up to the microphone to deliver the wordless, loping melody that introduces Down On Love, the opener from 2009’s As Day Follows Night. Delivered acapella, it’s a fitting opening move for Blasko’s first ever Adelaide set without a backing band or orchestra — a declaration that she really doesn’t need any of that ornamentation to leave a crowd pin-drop silent.

Sidling over to piano, the title track to I Awake is stripped of the Hungarian orchestra that makes it such a whirlwind of string-laden theatrics on record. The effect is disarming and intriguing, a rare insight into how Blasko’s songs might first appear to her, eked out of piano chords in an empty room (or stage). We’re also treated to the inverse of this with a song off her next album Read My Mind.

Likewise I Want To Be Your Man and Luxurious, both highlights from 2015’s Eternal Return, are pared back to reveal two timeless yet idiosyncratic masterclasses in pop songwriting. Without the synthesiser gloss and brisk bass grooves we’re allowed to appreciate the tracks’ breathy melodies and forceful chorus hooks in a way that recasts them as Brill Building-era classics. Carole King with a hint of Björk.

A moodier undercurrent is explored on a handful of tracks featuring looped drum machine and synth backing tracks, recalling the dark, electronic diversions of her second album What The Sea Wants The Sea Will Have. This is most effective on her closing song, another new one it seems, which sees her cloaked in red light that shifts and dances over the curved metal of the Town Hall’s imposing pipe organ while a grinding rhythm percolates menacingly beneath her vocals. It’s a sight that wouldn’t be out of place over the closing credits of Twin Peaks (one of the newer, stranger episodes).

Working her way through an ever shrinking array of instruments from grand piano to ukulele, deep cuts like Woman By The Well and Is My Baby Yours are fine, but by comparison sit too closely to the threadbare originals to match the revelation of other parts of the set. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the most typical ‘singer-songwriter’ configuration is the least rewarding for Blasko’s songs.

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Coaxed back onstage by an exceedingly polite crowd — though the Town hall doesn’t exactly invite rowdiness — Blasko offers up a trio of All I Want, fan favourite Chisel cover Flame Trees and Perfect Now. Rarely heard in Blasko’s sets these days, the revisited tracks provoke hushed awe from dedicated fans (most of the room, unsurprisingly), and it’s striking just how far Blasko has surpassed those early hits throughout the cherry-picked discography on show tonight. It’s a reminder that even if Blasko rarely assumes the role of acoustic guitar-toting singer-songwriter or revisits that 2005 album track you love, she’s got more than enough tricks in her bag to keep you glued.

Sarah Blasko performed as part of her The Soloist Tour at Adelaide Town Hall on Wednesday, July 5

Photos: Andreas Heuer – AKPhotography

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