As the band struck up its circus music overture, I was transported back to the heady days of Leo Sayer’s first Adelaide performance over forty years ago, when a thin waif-like sad-eyed clown held the Festival Theatre audience spellbound as he sang his first hit The Show Must Go On.
Tonight, as the star of the show came smiling broadly through the curtains to sing that same tune you could not say that he looked sad-eyed anymore, nor could you describe his voice as possessing the plaintive quality it had in the early stages of his career.
Leo still has plenty of stage presence though, and still commands a devoted and loyal fanbase who excitedly pushed and prodded each other’s shoulders as soon as they recognised the opening bars of each song in what was a quite thorough cross-section of his greatest hits.
Sayer was funny and charming in his between songs patter; coming across as part comedian, “Fridge festival? I haven’t seen a refrigerator anywhere…“, and part social commentator, making comment on our Premier’s stoush with the Federal Energy & Resources Minister: “It’s great to be here in the City Of Energy! Wind power, of course…”
He looked resplendent in his silver sneakers, his sequinned shirt and his star covered silver and blue lame jacket, and occasionally, whilst striking some of his poses and when the lights illuminated him in a certain way, he looked just like the boyish, impish star of old.
Backed by a band of excellent musicians – Bill Risby on keyboards; Rogue Traders’ Danny Spencer on guitar; Russell Morris’ go-to rhythm section of Mitch Cairns on bass and Danny Violi on drums – who ensured the show was lively and fast paced, Sayer soon sensed the crowd was with him and revelled in an atmosphere of mutual affection.
Vocally, he no longer tries to reach some of the higher falsetto notes on the more exuberant of his hits, so he cleverly left those to the crowd who were all too ready to back him up with their loud, lusty choral support.
Highlights of the show included Train (the only non-single album track from Just A Boy, so sadly no One Man Band or Giving It All Away); a beautifully rendered Orchard Road; and, of course, a stomping run through of Long Tall Glasses, which had everybody out of their seats – young and old – and dancing in every nook and cranny of the Spiegeltent.
Throw in More Than I Can Say, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Raining In My Heart, Thunder In My Heart and How Much Love to the setlist and you start to get a sense of the party atmosphere that prevailed.
With less people smoking these days, and naked flames banned from the venue, lighters gave way to mobile phone torches to hold up during When I Need You. This monster hit ballad rendered a duet between Sayer and hundreds of teary eyed, hypnotically swaying back up singers.
Having finished his planned set a few minutes early, the band decided to play a cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be, which subsequently placed considerably more battery drainage on those mobile phone torches, and strain on the voices of the peoples choir.
Obviously delighted at the rapturous reception they received, Sayer and his band seemed reluctant to leave the stage, but, as they say, the Fringe schedule must go on…
As they did eventually leave the stage, the mainman offered us these feisty revolutionary words of encouragement: ‘Thanks, South Australia. Stay independent, renewable and strong! May Canberra be crushed beneath your feet!‘
Bet you he would never have said such stirring words when he used to be guest host on Countdown!
Viva Le Leo!
Leo Sayer appeared for one night only at The Spiegeltent in The Garden Of Unearthly Delights on March 16.