Paul Dempsey and Melody Pool captivate during the Melbourne Zoo Twilight Series

The Eastern Barred Bandicoot is a tiny marsupial, once found across Victoria and Tasmania. Due to predation from feral foxes and cats, the mainland subspecies has been classified as extinct – but Zoos Victoria are working to remove them from the extinction list, through complex breeding and re-population programs.

Photo Credit: Zoos Victoria

There’s a point to this heartbreaking story, I swear. What if you could contribute to saving this furry little guy from extinction? And at the same time enjoy some of the best Australian musicians, in an idyllic setting?

You’re in luck – all proceeds from the Zoo Twilights music series are contributing to the efforts to save the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. You don’t have to be a bandicoot wrangler to help out, you’ve just got to have the capacity to enjoy being serenaded under the twilight sky. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it – I took the burden upon myself when Paul Dempsey took the stage.

The Melbourne heat was still oppressive as I arrived, granting me time to meander between the shady enclosures, seeing giraffes, lemurs, meerkats, and more. The family-friendly nature of these gigs means children (myself included) racing amongst the different zoo exhibits, and a few tantrums when the enclosures closed (OK, there was one tantrum; I may or may not have been responsible).

There couldn’t have been a better time for Melody Pool to take the stage, the singer-songwriter accompanied by violin and cello as she delivered her blissfully brooding ballads. Her stunning second album, Deep Dark Savage Heart, was released last year, gaining critical acclaim for its sombre, soul-baring journey, “It’s always going to be me playing guitar and singing the truth.” Melody Pool is one to watch – she’s got the capacity to immerse you, break your heart, and fill it right back up again.

Following Melody Pool, the afternoon sunlight faded, and the lawn of picnic blankets, cushions, picnic hampers and cozy families swelled to maximum capacity.  The sky turned to a velveteen expanse of indigo, the stars began to emerge, and Paul Dempsey and his band took to the stage, immediately kicking things off with ‘Fast Friends’.

Now, when I say ‘and band’, this isn’t something to be scoffed at – his new live band features Melbourne songstress Olivia Bartlett (aka Olympia) and Pat Bourke (formerly of Dallas Crane). The experience of these musicians, and their on-stage dynamic, kept the set buzzing with energy and professionalism.

Paul was the down-to-earth character we’ve grown to love, asking how many kids were ‘at their first rock’n’roll gig’, and modestly chatting between songs. Covering The Pixies’ “Dig For Fire”, rolling between songs from recent Strange Loop and debut solo album Everything is True, Dempsey was perfection. His music is the epitome of earnest, an exposition of his soul in the medium of near-genius lyricism, candid insights, and poignant melodies.

If the entire scene weren’t idyllic enough, with neon bandicoots illuminating an awe-struck audience, Paul even played “Bats”, introducing it as a song about ‘Melbourne and twilight and bats…. Even though they’re technically golden eared flying foxes, but I’m not going to fit that into a chorus.’ The two-hour set was topped with a three-song encore, including “We’ll Never Work in This Town Again”, and “Bird in The Basement”.

If there’s anything to take away from this show, it’s that Paul is an indispensable artist in contemporary Australian rock music. And that there is one thing more breathtaking than seeing Paul Dempsey in the flesh – a meerkat having a nap.

To support an amazing cause, check out some beautiful wildlife, and see some fantastic acts, get yourself to the Zoo Twilights series.

February 24th | Warpaint + Big Thief
February 25th | Killing Heidi + Abbe May
March 2nd | The Living End ft. Dan Sultan and The String Sirens + Gabriella Cohen 
March 3rd | The Living End ft. Dan Sultan and The String Sirens + Gabriella Cohen
March 4th | Kurt Vile + Mick Turner
March 8th |
Tegan and Sara + Montaigne
March 10th |
Martha Wainwright + Margaret Glaspy
March 11th |
The Specials + The Breadmakers

PS – Don’t forget a picnic rug!

The reviewer attended this show on February 17th.

Photos by Ian Laidlaw.