Bernard Fanning and Big Scary’s Sydney show was all about presenting something new while still retaining a firm handle on the past.

The fact is the former Powderfinger frontman is promoting his second solo album while Big Scary’s sophomore effort lobbed some creative curveballs at the listener. All of this was celebrated through two solid performances by these artists.

Big Scary’s line-up was expanded from the duo format of Tom Iansek (guitars/keys) and Jo Syme (drums) to include a third member alternating between bass and keys. The touring trio did a good, eight-song set that drew heavily from their recent, Not Art record with a particular focus on the broody and atmospheric songs.

Iansek was in fine form with his charming falsetto continuing to resemble Jeff Buckley at various points. He would also crack some jokes and make quips with Symes.

The addition of a bass guitar added an extra groove to their material, while Symes did an excellent job with her drumming. This involved some skitter-scatter clomp in “Luck Now” to paring it back with the softer ballad, “Falling Away” and then playing like an all-out beast in the older, heavier songs  “Gladiator” and “Purple”.

The feeling in the room was that while people enjoyed newer tracks, “Phil Collins” and “Belgian Blues”, there was much more fun to be had with the more hooky and immediate, older numbers. The same could also be said for Fanning’s set because he stuck strictly to his solo material and one cover song; even though some audience members would’ve traded their first-borns just to hear some live Powderfinger.

At times Bernard Fanning’s new material doesn’t seem like a far leap away from his previous work with his bandmates. He even reserved his best rock frontman poses for his recent single, “Battleships”. The songs in his discography are all obviously linked by their personal and relatable nature and his solo work ventures even further into this direction, with “Departures (Blue Toowong Skies)” perhaps his most intimate portrait to date.

“Wash Me Clean” opened proceedings with Fanning stepping ever-so-casually on-stage. He finger-picked his way through a sublime folk song that could hold itself in an already impressive discography, as the lyrics tugged at your heartstrings in much the same way as a baby cooing their very first words.

Fanning was backed by a five-piece band that featured new and old faces, with Shannon Carrol and Andrew Morris on guitars, Mark Henman on drums, Lachlan Doley on keys and Matt Englebrecht on bass. On “Inside Track” the guitars were driven up a notch in both the force and volume stakes, meaning these particular million dollar riffs sounded like something captured in a garage in the 60s.

The star of the evening acknowledged that some of the older material had been tinkered with in order to flow more cohesively with the newer stuff. Nothing appeared to be out of place but the changes also seemed to be very minor and would not have registered in the minds of the casual fans.

The fact is that Fanning held his own (even though at moments he was competing with chatter from a couple of rude people, especially during the quiet moments). But he did not let this affect his jovial exterior; he instead updated us with the cricket scores, talked about Steven Spielberg and gave the top tier a job (i.e. clapping along to a few cuts).

The overall reception to the show was largely positive with Fanning going so far as to ask why all gigs can’t be like this one. “Songbird” had people clapping along and pumping their fists while other Tea & Sympathy singles, “Watch Over Me” and “Wish You Well” were produced with great renditions and went down a treat in the encore, before the night was capped off with a cover of George Harrison’s “What Is Life”.

Bernard Fanning had ultimately entertained the crowd with his thick, creamy vocals that are like buttermilk.

There were songs that made you want to dance while others had you quietly contemplating your emotions and the things inside your head before making you want to embrace your buddy in an enthusiastic hug.

It was most satisfying to skip through Fanning’s two albums and while all the choices weren’t killer and there was filler, there were also lots of opportunities to sate your appetite for heart-filled folk and good, toe-tapping pop.


Originally published on 5 August 2013 at the following website:

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