There were plenty of bourbon and cokes making the way to the seats and standing area, where their bearers waited with great anticipation for Jimmy to hit the stage. My vantage point benefited from the smaller auditorium area and he delivered a setlist that would have pleased all the punters, with blasts from the past and off his latest album My Criminal Record.
However, it was the recent Smokefreerockquest 2019 winners, Sit Down In Front who were the real surprise, coming on as the warm-up act and delivering their style of sharp edgy punk, which was met with enthusiasm from the now packed arena.
The young band made up of Cory Newman (vocals), Jackson Clarke (guitar), Roman Benson (bass) and Rikki Noble (drums) must have been pinching themselves getting to perform in front of such a large audience, but the Gissy quartet delivered a tight set, showing no signs of being overawed by the occasion.
Stand out tracks were Rain (their latest single), a brilliant two and a half minute jet-fuelled ditty that drenched the punters, and their first single Run Away Chair, which Cory explained was inspired when he forgot to apply the brakes to his wheelchair.
The young lads from Sit Down In Front have got talent, raw energy and are well worth a listen.
Enough time for a refill or two and, as the lights went down and the volume picked up with the magical tones of Tom Waits' Goin Out West, the extensive band shuffled their way onto the stage. Ten in all: two keyboardists, bass, two guitars, drums and four backing singers. As Tom faded away, the distinctive guitar licks of Driving Wheels, from Freight Train Heart, pulled up to the station and Jimmy started up his engine with gusto.
There was little time to catch your breath as he raced through a couple of new tracks, I’m In A Bad Mood and Stolen Car, both off My Criminal Record. He then drove us back to earlier times with Ride The Night Away, from For The Working Class Man, and Cold Chisel’s great Khe Sanh still sounding as good as ever.
I was lucky enough to meet Jimmy earlier this year when he came over and did an intimate Q and A at the Anthology K Road in Auckland to promote his new album My Criminal Record. I did an album review too and thought it was a true return to form. You can find the review on Radio 13 here.
Jimmy continued belting out new and old at the arena. At one point he took a breath and introduced the next song’s history, which was Lover Lover. Jane, his wife (and backing singer tonight along with his three daughters), had vowed that one day she’d write a song for him. “That would be nice,” Jimmy had said with a hint of trepidation. True to her word, Jane finally delivered the song and, as it transpired, it turned out to be his only number one.
There was also a nod to another great artist John Lennon, with a heartfelt rendition of Working Class Hero, and, rightly pointed out by my mate Myles, Marianne Faithfull also did a brilliant version. It seemed quite poignant given Jimmy’s background and now well-publicised upbringing, which goes a long way to explaining why he has been championing this ever since he picked up a mic.
It’s fair to say that the sound wasn’t always the best, which did detract a little from the night, especially when Jimmy came across quite fuzzy and distorted. Not a biggie, but there were times I thought just a little less volume would have helped his cause.
The lighting was very cool and really brought the stadium to life, as did my favourite song of the night Flame Trees, another Chisel classic. You could feel the whole crowd warm up and sing the chorus with heartfelt nostalgia.
A trifecta of classics closed the main set. If there were three songs I would have been gutted he didn’t perform, to have them play together was the buzz of the night, not just for me but everyone else going by their reactions. I’d Die To Be With You Tonight, No Second Prize and Working Class Man whipped the punters into a frenzy at the finish line, with only winners left on the day.
A short break and then the band came back and played four songs for their supper, including another two covers: one from Bob Dylan, Seven Days, and the standout of the short set Sam and Dave’s When Something Is Wrong With My Baby reminding me and everyone else that Jimmy has soul. Instead of singing it with John Farnham this time, it was his daughter Mahalia that, for any father worth his salt, would bring a wee tear to the eye.
So as the storm clouds parted and everyone went their merry way, I couldn’t help thinking about all the demons that Jimmy Barnes has faced over his 63 years, which have now left him enjoying his own skin. He prowled around the stage like a tiger for most of the night, proudly taking his family along for the ride. It seems that time is still on his side. All the better for us I say.