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Joel in Australia – Sunshine & Clouds Tour

Sunshine & Clouds Tour – The Basement, Sydney (17th Jan, 2008)
Article by Max Easton

Local favourite Old Man River recently joined forces with Canada’s Joel Plaskett and The Whitlam’s Tim Freedman for the Sunshine & Clouds tour; a three man travelling revue backed by the Cuthbert & The Nightwalkers choir through January and early February. Luckily, this tour won’t go unrecorded, as Soulshine was there last Thursday at the Basement in Sydney for the seventh show of the tour.

… Plaskett receives a quiet reception as he fingers his guitar to play “a song for tonight and tomorrow morning,â€Â? the beautiful ‘Love This Town.’ As a solo man and an entertainer, he’s a genius. Mid-song banter laying a platform for his quirky lyrics, explaining their origins and giving his songs a sense of depth and humour unseen on his recorded work. He moves on to ‘Work Out Fine’ as he continues his on-stage discussion about traveling Australia before congratulating us for making wine that’s expensive (and thus, classy) on the other side of the world. The Nightwalkers choir enter for his third song, the elegant ‘Light of the Moon.’ The choir consists of four barely legal aged girls whom the obligatory heckler finds attractive, to which Plaskett says “you’re right, they are hot…but I can’t say that, you’ll get me in trouble.â€Â? Plaskett is honest, raw and real. His tales of the real world draw the audience into a grinning stupour, leaving no face untarnished by his infectious groove … ( click to read entire article)

The Basement is a unique little venue. Nestled in the heart of Sydney’s Circular Quay, it lays claim to hosting an array of esteemed musicians, from Prince to Paul Kelly amongst its antique styled mahogany bar and deep crimson backlighting. As you round the bar at the entrance, you’re reminded of a scaled down set of a 1940’s gangster flick. A grand piano, candlelit dinner tables and swanky crimson and blue mood-lighting sit before a raised stage, with the fashionable and the fan boys enjoying dinner before what will play host to three of today’s favourite songmen; East Coast Music Award (Canada) winning Joel Plaskett, local favourite Old Man River and one of Australia’s most celebrated lead men, The Whitlam’s Tim Freedman all backed by the Nightwalkers choir of Cuthbert and the Nightwalkers fame.

Freedman’s ‘good evening’ call and the dulling of the lights do little to ease the collective murmurs of those on their Thursday night out, as the waiting staff rush to clear plates and glasses before the start of the show. A few strokes of the piano later and the crowd hushes as Freedman announces that he drew the short straw to open, so “we can get the songs of drunken heartbreak out of the way early.� The ceiling fans blow candle flames into a steady flicker as the night’s couples draw themselves closer together. As Freedman plays ‘Beauty in Me’ it’s easy to see his comfort in such a venue, this type of show is him in his element and the crowd eats up his opening two tracks before the introduction of the import of the evening; Joel Plaskett, grabbed from Halifax, Nova Scotia and towed around the country for the Sunshine & Clouds tour.

Plaskett receives a quiet reception as he fingers his guitar to play “a song for tonight and tomorrow morning,� the beautiful ‘Love This Town.’ As a solo man and an entertainer, he’s a genius. Mid-song banter laying a platform for his quirky lyrics, explaining their origins and giving his songs a sense of depth and humour unseen on his recorded work. He moves on to ‘Work Out Fine’ as he continues his on-stage discussion about traveling Australia before congratulating us for making wine that’s expensive (and thus, classy) on the other side of the world. The Nightwalkers choir enter for his third song, the elegant ‘Light of the Moon.’ The choir consists of four barely legal aged girls whom the obligatory heckler finds attractive, to which Plaskett says “you’re right, they are hot…but I can’t say that, you’ll get me in trouble.� Plaskett is honest, raw and real. His tales of the real world draw the audience into a grinning stupour, leaving no face untarnished by his infectious groove.

The departure of Plaskett seamlessly blends into the entrance of Old Man River (Ohad Rein,) who at first struggles to remove the sense of disappointment that comes with Plaskett’s absence. In no time though, the tabled heads are bobbing in time to Ohad’s laidback crooning roots sound for ‘Watching It All.’ He lacks the charisma of Plaskett but isn’t short on great tunes, as he unplugs for ‘The Waiting Song,’ pulling up a chair and standing amongst the tables: irritating the aforementioned heckler, amplifying the clashes and clanks of the kitchen staff while also bringing a calm across the audience as they fall into silence. The added touch of the Nightwalkers entering from backstage to supply breezy moans is one of the sweeter moments of the night, as the repetitive clanking wobble of the high speed fans is drowned out by the backing vocals.

The choir remains on stage as River re-plugs for ‘Summer’ before bringing on the return of the unusually silent Tim Freedman, who seems to have left his expert stage manner to Plaskett for the night, who, despite being the lesser known of the three locally, is by far the most well-received. Freedman, however, has the immediate stage presence, the aura of maturity coming from the respect he has earned as part of the Whitlams. Despite his presence and faultless musical ability, his morose songs of loneliness and disaster take away from the up-beat love-in that the rest of the revue had to offer. He does his best to rectify this as he moves into ‘Thank You (For Loving Me At My Worst),’ the perky piano bringing smiles back to the faces of what had become a relatively withdrawn and somber audience. The now cheerful audience is treated to the entrance of Plaskett and River for a group re-endition of River’s ‘Sunshine.’ The night receives an instant lift as the night of solo acts bursts into an all-in affair backed with tambourine and harmonium within the choir, which extends beyond the four Nightwalkers to the Basement itself for a shameless sing-a-long leading into a personal gigging first; an intermission.

This is more than just three sets at a gig, it’s an all encompassing dinner and show, an experience unusual for the jovial triplet, but one that works. It’s a fantastic atmosphere and a great way of combining three very talented musicians into the one show as a group rather than three separate solo acts. It suits the music, it suits the venue and it’s a unique experience that feels at home amongst the timber handrails, crimson lighting and exposed plumbing that crawls across the ceiling. The philosophy behind Sunshine & Clouds is one that can make it in venues such as these and one that definitely has an audience amongst the music scene that strives on something new and fresh. A return to classical ideas may just be the way to revitalize the music scene. The conversations made during the intermission, which consist of the extremes of extreme in irritating small talk, are muted by Plaskett introducing himself for Part 2 of Sunshine & Clouds, threatening the audience in song; “if you talk, you will be crushed.� He fingers through ‘Lying On the Beach in the Sun,’ informing us that this is his fourth song in the key of G that he’s played tonight as he moans and croons about losing his mind daydreaming working for the CBC which, “is like the ABC, but with an extra C.� While jokingly discussing the buoyancy of his song and requesting the sound men to make his guitar sound more buoyant, you come to realize that this man is a born entertainer. His tongue-in-cheek stage manner planting grins on the audience as a whole, 17 to 73. He plays an untitled new track, uptempo classic rock – catchy and fresh – while he forgets lyrics, makes some up, repeats others yet somehow, delivers again, bringing back Old Man River in style, again, through song: “Here’s Old Man River, you know he’ll deliver, five shows in a row, that’s hard on the liver.�

River proceeds to play a few of his more laidback tracks on piano before Freedman returns to play crowd favourite, ‘No Aphrodisiac.’ The night begins to lull before the return of all three members of the revue for the evening’s highlight, an all-in sing-a-long for Old Man River’s ‘La.’ Finishing with the Basement itself screaming animal noises at River’s request, Sunshine & Clouds proves itself a success. A tour that mixes the maturity of the dinner and show with the innocence of their music. It’s a working combination that leaves all in attendance in a brilliant mood as they make their way home to battle their red wine hangovers for another work day to round out the week. Sunshine & Clouds crosses two barriers. It introduces the youthful music of Plaskett and River to an audience who, in a week, will be sitting down to ‘A Night With Marcia Hines’ at the Basement, whilst introducing the dynamic that artists like Hines have known to an audience speckled with the younger generation. It’s very diverse and breaks down the boundaries of expectation that exists within these two somewhat polarised demographics. Its effect is more than that of just a tour, it’s a way of opening the minds of two generations while providing a fantastic set of music. It’s a great idea and one that I’m sure we’ll see developed over the coming years by touring artists facing the conundrum of the co-headline.

The Sunshine & Clouds tour continues through January and February, entering Victoria on the 22nd playing SoCo Cargo on the 22nd and 23rd before Ruby’s Lounge on 24th and the Theatre Royal on the 25th. It then comes back through NSW, playing Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel on the 1st of February before the Canberra Southern Cross Club on the 2nd. Tickets are available from the venues in question by pre-order or at the door subject to availability.