Wednesday, March 11, 1987
(STATE THEATER, SYDNEY)
John Farnham has come of age, and he's out to prove it. At 37, most of his fans at the State Theater were some years from conception when Johnny Farnham first rose to stardom with "Sadie The Cleaning Lady." Evidently aware of this generation gap, and of the pretty boy image of the late '60s/early 70s which he's never quite shaken, Farnham began his show, tongue firmly in cheek, with a lengthy piece of film from those olden days when he was teen idol and Aussie music was finding its feet.
When Farnham finally hit the stage, though, he was indisputably an adult rock veteran, and he and his nine-piece band delivered a riveting "Pressure Down" which set the pace for the two-hour, 15-minute show.
Farnham can sure belt out a song. His distinctive voice has matured since "Sadie," but has lost none of its clarity or depth of feeling. Every song from the "Whispering Jack" album was presented, intercut with cover versions of Australian numbers, including a haunting version of Cold Chisel's "When the War Is Over."
Midway through the show, Farnham left the stage, and backing Singer Venetta Fields sang three songs which kept the audience warm but eager for more of their hero. When he returned, it was to sing a series of ballads accompanied only by keyboardist David Hirschfelder. It seemed that here Farnham was at his best until his rendition of "Amazing Grace," sans backing, which transfixed all and made clear the power of voice as instrument.
Show reached an explosive climax with number one hit, "You're The Voice," featuring six bagpipers and the 6O-strong Sydney U. Choir on backing vocals. For three encores, the frenzy continued. Farnham paid homage to his Little River Band days with electric deliveries of "Playing To Win" and "On The Border," and then saluted his early career with "One." He finished with his well-known, soulful version of "Help."
Band included ex-LRB bassist Wayne Nelson, two backing vocalists, and an extremely tight three-piece horn section. Everyone on stage had a ball, especially Farnham, who came across throughout as a nice bloke, totally blown out by this meteoric rise 20 years into his career. Since he's arguably the best male vocalist in this country, it is not before time. Krug.
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Wednesday, December 9, 1987
Separate Tables (6)
(ENTERTAINMENT CENTER, SYDNEY)
The Jack's Back tour has an ironic ring Jack has never really been away. Although he may not have performed live for a few months, John Farnham has been so prominent in the public's eye this year, one could almost expect this tour, basically a reorganized, updated offering of his concerts earlier this year, to have an adverse effect on fans who might have had more than their fill.
At 820.000 units, and still selling, his "Whispering Jack" album has more than doubled the record for Aussie sales of an album by a local artist; he collected more than 10 top prizes at the ARIA, Mo and Countdown Awards through the year; he is the recipient of the largest ever sponsorship deal for an Australian performer, through Coca-Cola the list goes on.
The possibility of overexposure dulling the effect of this latest concert tour was non-existent, however. Farnham walked onto the stage of the 12,000-seat Entertainment Center for the first in a string of sellout Sydney shows, to an amazing burst of ecstasy and adulalion voiced in a high-pitched scream of united support for a true superstar.
With a set basically unchanged, comprising all the songs from the "Whispering Jack" album, a few oldies, some gutsy cover versions, and a pleasant enough interlude from backing singet Venetta Fields, one instinctively looks for differences. Additions to the program were impressive. A handful of new songs from the promised new album were catchy with slick harmonies; and new covers included excellent renditions of Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights" and AC/DC's "It's A Long Way To The Top," the latter slightly tongue-in-cheek.
Most noticeable change is in Farnham himself. While early in the year he was clearly overwhelmed by his sudden stardom, reflecting a certain candor in his performance, the mega-year behind him has instilled a confidence and maturity in his attitude which give him an almost sublime presence. His unfailingly superior vocals support this an exhausting year has hardly touched his ability to bring out the best in every song, especially in ballads like "Touch Of Paradise" or the classic "One" and he is still at his best when the music ceases, and his voice is the only instrument, as in "Amazing Grace."
His band is an integral part of the show. Together now for almost a year, the 10-piece group has become an impeccably tight outfit, featuring a sizzling brass section, classy keyboards from David Hirschfelder. and superb backing vocals from Fields and Lindsay Field. All unite with Farnham for "You're The Voice," now an anthem for the Australian spirit, and one cannot refrain from joining in the frenzy of rapture and adoration for thc song, for the man, for The Voice.
Yet when this confident star speaks, he is still a nice bloke full of respect and gratitude for the public who put him at the top. Typically, his thank you list included a lengthy promo for support band Separate Tables. Led by an imposing and raunchy singer, Lisa Schauw, this statuesque lineup of formidable talent coped well with the inadequate sound system the Entertainment Center provides its secondary acts. and offered an impressive string of songs including first single, "When The Word Came Down," gusty rock to take notice of. Krug.
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January 4-10, 1989
John Farnham (10)
ENTERTAINMENT CENTER, SYDNEY
Just when you thought there was nothing left for John (The Voice) Farnham to prove, there he was fronting an orchestra, singing better than ever and playing the clown in a night of sheer fun.
Early on there was an uneasy feeling that it wasn't quite working, despite the adoration from the 10,000-strong audience, particularly the younger members.
Farnham's opening 45-minute set with his 9-piece band was hampered by a rough sound mix, making it slightly flat, but after an interval and costume changes, the Melbourne Symphony became the backup for 80-minutes of powerful music with a fuller, more even sound. Result wasn't initially due to the presence of the symphony; in the first few songs, headed by the outstanding "Age Of Reason," the orchestra was drowned out by the electric music of the band and the screams of the fans.
But a bracket of ballads from Farnham's earlier career, showcasing the piano skills of David Hirschfelder and enabling proper focus on the orchestral arrangements, changed the aura of the occasion.
Whether it was the delving into the past or that Farnham is now so comfortable with his superstar status that he can deal more happily with that past, "Please Don't Ask Me," "Comic Conversations" and "Don't You Know It's Magic" helped bring the concert to a more satisfying level musically.
And it got better. "Playing To Win" was one of the hottest songs of the night, followed by the anthemic "You're The Voice." The two encores were stunning, with the symphony at home with "Touch Of Paradise" and Farnham's interpretation of "Help." AC/DC's "It's A Long Way To The Top," with orchestra, was a fitting climax.
The trump card was the band's cajoling of Farnham to sing his first hit, "Sadie The Cleaning Lady," which he has refused to perform for many years. The final act of purging was a mirthful, musical treat, with even the orchestra in on the joke, and Farnham's ability as an entertainer was reaffirmed. Yet again. Krug.