The thermometer in the car on the way into town tonight was still pushing 40 degrees celsius, so I was hoping, praying to the music gods, that Ross Wilson was going to bring his fans out in force for his one-off Adelaide Fringe show – his electric fans at least!
Well, no such luck with the cooling devices, but enough of his admirers turned out to achieve the opposite effect and turn the tent into the Spiegelkiln for the duration of his set.
Looking remarkably youthful and robust as he closes in on 70 years old, Wilson fired up the old Daddy Cool classic Come Back Again to start proceedings. Whilst it was not the most energetic of starters, it struck a chord with a crowd who were there to soak up the hits from a career that now spans over fifty years and has spawned at least two bona fide, legendary Aussie pub rock bands.(Three if you include Mighty Kong!)
Initially, it seemed he wouldn’t disappoint, as he followed up his opener with Mondo Rock’s Chemistry – not their best tune but at least familiar enough to the casual fan to keep their spirits and hopes up.
A dull rockabilly tune followed, played with a disappointing lack of spirit and fire, which dampened the crowd’s enthusiasm a little too quickly. Wilson also dusted off Back Door Man, a blues cover he released with his first band, The Pink Finks, and which tonight was performed in a version that can only be described as the worst kind of white-boy blues imaginable.
All was not lost as a spark of life returned with a rousing rendition of DC’s Hi Honey Ho – still a stonking tune after all these years, which allowed his band to loosen up and enjoy themselves in the oppressive heat.
Long-time collaborator, Eric McCusker played some tasteful licks on guitar; Chris Paraha provided a solid rhythm on bass, being ably assisted by the competent and not flashy Haydn Meggitt on drums; and, rounding out the line-up was Colin Snape who played some unobtrusive keyboards.
After this second Daddy Cool staple, Wilson inexplicably lost the plot, and it seemed we were suddenly temporarily living in the land of dross, as he allowed the band to drift into a half hour bracket (that ‘s half of a one hour set!) of forgettable songs from his back catalogue and more recent songwriting efforts.
The minor late eighties hit, Bed Of Nails, which was forgettable then and is even more so now, was rolled out and this, unbelievably, was the best of a run of songs that included fellow Dark Side Of The Man track, What’s Wrong With This Picture?; an uninspired co-write with The Angels’ Rick Brewster, entitled I Come In Peace; and a new song, which provided the nadir of the evening, that included a chorus which contained dire lyrics along the lines of: ‘I live two lives / One with the woman I love / The other with my wife…’, which he unsuccessfully tried to get the crowd to sing along with.
Why would a man with such a hugely familiar back catalogue fill half a show with such ploddy, uninspiring pop-by-numbers rubbish? It was a bit insulting to those who braved dehydration in the Spiegelsweatbox to make them sit through this in the hope they might get a few more of the radio faves they came to see.
Fortunately, Wilson did keep a short burst of such songs for the last ten minutes or so, and you could sense the relief sweeping through the audience when he announced they were to play State Of The Heart – now rebadged as the song from this year’s Oscar nominated film, Lion.
Cool World, Come Said The Boy, and the obligatory Eagle Rock, were all enthusiastically received and whilst not played with any great passion at least allowed the faithful to sing out loudly and sway, semi-vigorously, in their seats.
Ross Wilson has the right to claim his iconic status in our music industry and his place as one of our greatest ever musical talents – respect deserved and acknowledged.
But – tonight’s set was a little flat and not one to go down in the annals as one of his greatest live shows.
Let’s blame it on the heat.
Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks performed for one night only at the Spiegeltent in The Garden Of Unearthly Delights on Tuesday February 28.