When I was ten my parents took me along to see Patti Smith and Bob Dylan on their Australian tour. Set in the moggy outdoor air of Darwin’s grassy amphitheatre, I recall that Dylan’s set flew past me with no consequence, but Patti Smith’s performance was mesmerising. I don’t remember much of what she played, only that her set resonated with me so much that it is still one of my favourite early life memories.
Settling into the large expanse of Melbourne’s Town Hall, the dimly lit auditorium was a far departure from the dewy lawn I sat on last time I heard ‘Gloria’ live, but as a silhouetted Adalita stalked the stage to deliver a rousing take on the album’s opener, I felt that same bubble of excitement I had as a child. Backed by mostly The Drones, Adalita was striking in her conviction as the opening performer.
Each song was a stunning tribute to its original, fitting with its chosen performer with ease. In contrast to Adalita, Courtney Barnett was casual and unbridled in her wailing takes of ‘Redondo Beach’ and ‘Break It Up’. Where Gareth Liddiard let the dark and mood of the songs shift through his disparate vocals and guitar play, Jen Cloher was bright and infectious as she soared through the daunting three part ‘Land’, seemingly unfazed as she dropped the mic to race around the stage, barely visible as she windmill-armed her way behind the drum kit.
And while the magic of Smith’s debut shone throughout the show, I found myself feeling a little crestfallen when the performers would come on one per song. I guess I had come to the show thinking that I was going to witness all four on stage together, standing side by side as they tackled songs. Was I asking too much to have four brilliant artists take the stage together? It wasn’t that the performances lacked, because each song stirred that love of Smith’s music that I have carried with me for most of my life. It was more that each time one singer left for another to take their place, the energy they created in their performance waned ever so slightly, scattering into the dark like smoke.
I did eventually get what I wanted with everyone coming onstage at the end for a raucous version of ‘My Generation’. They shared vocals, they rolled around the stage, the keyboardist sprinted to the back to play his part on the auditorium’s organ – it was several minutes of love and passion for a performer who has been a great influence to us all and it was a triumphant finish to a performance of songs that mean so much to so many.