RELAXED: Bernard Fanning appeared at ease with his audience and even enjoyed a cheeky State of Origin barb. “I love you Bernard.” It seemed to be called out incessantly, almost to the point of annoyance, when the former Powderfinger frontman returned to the ornate surrounds of Newcastle’s Civic Theatre.
There was certainly a lot of love in the room for Bernard Fanning. After all, he is the voice behindthe biggest Australianbandof the last 20 years.
Fanning live is an entirely different beast to Powderfinger. Less grunt and more tenderness. More country-infused balladry and less rock theatrics.
Perhaps it’s his 47 years, perhaps its fatherhood, but Fanning appearedcomfortable in his own skin on stage. Where he was once slightly awkward while delivering stage banter, at the Civic Theatre he was chatty, relaxed and extremely amusing.
Before even playing a note he began a conversation with “Newie” and it continued throughout the evening. At one point hisrant about the lack of political vision in Australia when introducing the trackBelly Of The Beastmight have becometoo long-winded for some, but the exchange was rescued by Fanning’s wit.
“How does it feel Newcastle knowing youhave the fifth best rugby league player of all time?” he asked cheekily.“There’s Wally Lewis, Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Alfie [Allan] Langer and then Andrew Johns.” It attractedthe only boos of the night.
The 19-song set drew heavily from Fanning’s latest and third solo albumCivil Dusk. On the record some songs veer intomiddle-of-the road territory, but live they breathed with life.
The openingUnpicking A Puzzleshowed off the beautiful fragility of Fanning’s voice,Sooner Or Laterbounced along with country charm and lead singleWasting Timehad added punch.
Fanning introduced his backing band the Black Fins as the “greatest” in the world. That suggestion was a stretch, but there was no doubting their quality.
Keyboardist Sally Campbell performed one of the night’s highlights with her blazing violin solo onThrill Is Gone.
The Black Fins also included the Wilson Pickers’Andrew Morris and John Bedgood, and the former took lead vocals onthe cover onthe Steve Miller Band’sJet Airliner.
Fanning’s 2013 albumDepartureswas mostly avoided, bar the folksy title track, with the remainder of the set focused on his wildly-popular 2005 debutTea & Sympathy.
We heardSongbird,Not Finished Just Yet, Fanning solo on piano forWatch Over Meand his biggest hitWish You Well, which had people up and dancing for the only time throughout the show.
Fanning has always been keen to separate with solo work from Powderfinger, and that continued.
Sail The Wildest Stretchwas an interesting choice given it’s one of Powderfinger’slesser-known singles from their last albumGolden Rule, but Fanning did it justice alone on acoustic guitar “like Ifirst presented it to the band.”
Arguably Powderfinger’s most popular song, the ultimate mid-life crisis anthemThese Days, closed the show, before segueing in the Prince classicPurple Rain.
Fanning’s enduring appeal may be based on past glories, but he proved on Friday night he remains one of the greatest performers and voices in Australian music. Bernie’s here to stay.