After fifty years in the business, one of the things Russell Morris has clearly mastered is how to put together a setlist to please everyone.
Last night’s show was no exception. He draws on a diverse range of material from his renaissance period of albums which feature songs that explore largely overlooked or ignored characters and events from the darker pages of our history; covers of songs that made an impression upon him during various stages of his life; and a brace of those unforgettable songs that his ‘father’ recorded back in the sixties and early seventies.
He still looks amazingly good – fit, healthy, and in magnificent voice, albeit severely follicularly challenged under his Stetson. The latter quality being the reason, so he said, for initially avoiding invitations to play at this event: he thought ‘the Fringe was a hairdresser’s convention’…boom, boom!
Having seen him perform at last year’s festival in the same venue, I was assuming that this year’s set would be similar, but I was delighted to find that, apart from the main hits, there was not a lot of repetition in the band’s choices this time around.
Given the quality of the songs the band ran through enthusiastically at this show, it only served to prove the depth of good material that Morris has now accumulated and now has at his disposal every night.
The opening bracket of The Drifter and Walk My Blues, both from his breakthrough ‘comeback’ album, Sharkmouth, and a blistering Bendigo Rock from 2014’s Van Diemen’s Land album, convincingly declared that he is not ready to get by on being a by-the-numbers golden oldie act, but that he is still a vibrant and vital musical force.
The 14 song set was interspersed with a number of humorous anecdotes recalling such times as his Richmond primary school days where he was bullied by hard-nosed older kids who shook him down for his lunch money daily (he soon, however, found a way to get ‘street smart’ and outwit those girls!), and some affectionate pay-outs of his old friend and housemate, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum.
Two glorious covers chimed out mid-set. The first, digging out a Bob Dylan track that he had recorded with Meldrum back in the earliest years of his career, was It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – and the band nailed it perfectly. The second, a seemingly random selection, was a respectful version of Thunderclap Newman’s, Something In The Air.
The last half of the set really allowed the band to cut loose. More recent songs, ‘Bout To Break and Birdsville were lively entrees to the ‘hitlist’ main course.
Wings Of An Eagle, Black Dog Blues, The Real Thing, Hush and Sweet, Sweet Love all followed in quick succession, and the multitude of broad smiling faces beaming out from the front of bobbing grey haired heads was clear proof that the band had delivered the goods to everyone’s satisfaction.
It was obvious that he left the crowd wanting more, but being a Fringe show he had to leave the stage in order to allow the rest of the evening’s schedule to run on time. For those who were in attendance who do want to see more there is good news – he is back in town and playing at The Gov on May 6 where he will no doubt play a longer and even more diverse set with his excellent band of brothers – Peter Robinson on guitar; Dr. John Creach on drums, and his bass playing, record producing, songwriting partner, Mitch Cairns.
And if you can’t get to The Gov in May, I am sure the Fringe will be only too pleased to have him back in the main tent next year, and his fans will be queuing up to buy tickets once again.
Russell Morris & his band play The Gov on May 6. Tickets from the usual outlets.