Live Review: The Whitlams + Ben Wright Smith – The Gov, Adelaide (09.09.16)

A large part of me feels like there’s little point in writing a review like this. Tim Freedman and The Whitlams have had a command of live music in Australia for so long now that I do sometimes wonder, “why bother?” I mean people don’t read reviews of Whitlams shows to find out if they’re any good. They simply read them to see how good the most recent one was. In that way, I won’t be disappointing our readership. Because this show, like all Whitlams shows, was outstanding.

Kicking things off was Ben Wright Smith, whose recent single “Sand Grabber” has been getting some spins on Triple J lately. Looking like he’s just stepped out the back of a Kombi and sounding like a slightly disenfranchised version of Passenger, one thing is clear – the guy can write a pretty mean song. He was sans band for this performance, except for piano accompaniment. Said accompaniment was provided by a lady named Fran who had a simply angelic voice and provided fantastic harmony for Ben, especially on tracks like “If Living The Good Life Is So Easy (Why Is It So Hard?)”.

I once heard someone say that The Whitlams are the band that make the music that fills in all the gaps. At the time I was understandably confused. But at the time I hadn’t heard nearly as much music as I have now. That comment came back to me during Friday night’s performance. I think I began to understand where it came from.

I’ve always said that the greatest musicians are the ones that are the most difficult to pigeon hole. Tim Freedman’s songwriting genius certainly represents that if nothing else. But equally, the insatiable talent of Jak, Terepai and Warwick cannot be contained within one genre. Over the years people have desperately wanted to call The Whitlams a rock band. But somehow it didn’t feel quite right. Then they wanted to call the music pop, but then who says things like “I don’t believe in rugby league” in pop music? No-one. As should be the case, Friday’s show at The Gov did nothing to change the impossible-to-label nature of The Whitlams’ aura.

Very little pomp and ceremony occurs at a Whitlams gig. Because simply, none is needed. The band walked on stage rather hurriedly and cracked straight into “Blow Up The Pokies”. And instantly, I was home. When musicians of this calibre take the stage live, you remember why you go to see live music.

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The set list certainly wasn’t wanting. All the biggies were there, including “No Aphrodisiac”, “Thank You” and a rendition of “I Make Hamburgers” that Tim played begrudgingly at best. His comment prior to playing Hamburgers quite late in the set was, “Oh right, someone has finally requested Hamburgers. That actually took an hour and a quarter, which is pretty good.”

But as always, the highlights are the songs you’re not sure they’ll play. Unquestionably my favourite song of the evening was “Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No.2)” which Tim played solo as an encore. Something this band are great at is controlling set dynamics. At one point, coming off a few ballads, they smashed their way into “Royal In The Afternoon” and man there wasn’t a body in that place not shaking its ass. “I Will Not Go Quietly (Duffy’s Song)” had a very similar effect. Throw in a cover of a Bowie track (Sung by Jak) and you had yourself a goddamn fun evening. As always.