[LIVE REVIEW] You Am I + Magic Dirt + Maddy Jane // Twilight at Taronga // 01/02/19

Wollongong-via-Hobart singer-songwriter Maddy Jane is normally flanked by a full band at live shows, bringing some extra oomph to her jangly, retro-tinged guitar pop. Having gotten into the swing of that, putting her on stage under the solo guise feels like an ill-advised decision – if you’re going to showcase the woman’s talents to a largely-unfamiliar audience, it deserves to be in its complete form. Having said that, Jane fares just fine on her lonesome – her smoky, laconic vocals serve as the centrepiece of tracks like the soulful “Not Human at All” and the tongue-in-cheek “No Other Way,” and the fact she has new converts calling out for more at the end of her set surely means mission accomplished.

It’s been nearly a decade since the tragic passing of the legendary Dean Turner, and by extension the end of his band, Magic Dirt. His presence looms in whatever his surviving bandmates do – they finished the band out of respect to him; they reunited last year in tribute to him. This is a celebration – and it’s nice and fucking loud, the way he would have wanted it. Even the poppier numbers like the Divinyls-esque “Plastic Loveless Letter” and “Watch Out Boys” from 2003’s Tough Love have so much distortion on them you’d bring them in for quarantining on suspicion of radiation poisoning.

The band’s longtime mate and stand-in bassist, Steve Patrick, plays a black Rickenbacker just like Dean’s. He hits the strings at the base of the fretboard, just like Dean did. By no means is this a criticism, and by no means is Turner’s legacy a burden to anyone – to watch a reunited Magic Dirt is to see them phyisically manifest how much he meant to them.  A snarling, uncompromising “She-Riff” closes out in a blaze of noise and catharsis, the drum kit toppling over as the guitars all shriek with feedback. Magic Dirt have risen again, and we’re all better off for it.

You Am I have been doing this long enough that they can confidently stride into any pub, club or theatre in this country and get a hero’s welcome. Hell, they can even walk into a zoo and do it. There’s just something to the way these four operate that has managed to keep audiences coming back year after year after year. At present, You Am I aren’t promoting anything. They’re not spruiking a new album, a reissue or even a greatest-hits compilation. They’re doing shows… well, just ’cause.

One might think that’s arbitrary or unnecessary, but the truth is without the external pressures of promotion a live show can often be a lot more fun and in-the-moment. This is certainly the case with You Am I, who just seem to be enjoying one another’s company more than usual this evening. They bust out a slab of classics, opening with “How Much is Enough?” and “Jewels & Bullets” before segueing into “Who Put the Devil in You,” “Constance George” and “What I Don’t Know About You.” All of it is met with whistles, cheers and loud singing along from the packed dancefloor, while frontman Tim Rogers teases those watching from up on the hill and dedicating songs to kids down in the front row with their parents. It’s informal, sure, but when the songs kick in our boys are all business – see the tried-and-true transition from “Purple Sneakers” into the slamming power-pop of “Cathy’s Clown” for evidence.

The night closes out on the band’s signature hit, “Berlin Chair,” which Rogers barely even needs a microphone for given his thousands of eager vocalists at the ready in front of him. The band take a bow, but in a move of true camaraderie they bring out Magic Dirt and bassist Andy Kent’s family to join them. This is bigger than just them, and acknowledging that is a heartfelt, beautiful way to end a fantastic evening of music. God bless the fucking lot of them.  

Review – David James Young
Photo – Charlie Hardy