Powderfinger + Jet + You Am I @ The Riverstage, 13.11.2010

In a way I’ve already summarised Powderfinger’s last ever show in the post about the Vegas Kings’ last show, which took place later that same night.

On one side of Brisbane, down by the river, Powderfinger are playing the final show of their illustrious 20 year career. Surprisingly, given the demand, that is the fourth show at the Riverstage, that it’s the very end and supposed to be sold out, tickets are still on sale at the ticket office if you’ve got a spare $120. A short distance from the ticket office the official t-shirts are going for $40 a pop and the show is being filmed for DVD and also recorded for an audio release. The question on the photographers’ minds was what we would be allowed to photograph; given it was the last show, would we get the normal first three songs before or would we get to photograph the encore. We get the first four songs; they have sold the rights to photograph that final coming together and wave goodbye to one of the photo agencies and indeed there are a couple of photographers stationed on a speaker stack at the front on either side of the stage for the whole show. Not that any of the band will probably ever have to work again anyway, but they’re truly milking it for every single cent until the very last note rings out.

Having seen the band play once before and having heard plenty of their songs, I’ve just never gotten Powderfinger.  They’re the local boys done good and maybe that’s why I can’t fathom the attraction.

Tonight is their last chance to show me what I’m missing and the four songs we get to photograph are definitely enjoyable. Photographing bands is always more enjoyable when bands give you something to work with, even if it means hamming it up and pulling out all the rock star pose clichés.  But sitting on the grass and watching the show after those first four songs, there’s nothing to mark the night as anything special.  This is the last show they’re ever going play but there’s nothing that gives the impression that this is really the end of something.  It feels like the end of a tour, but nothing more than that.  There’s no surprise songs choices (so I’m told) and no surprise guests.  There’s a thank you to the people who work for the band but the way it’s delivered only makes it feel like the last show in an overly long and tiring tour.  For much of the time the band look like they can’t even bear to look at each other, despite singer Bernard Fanning’s insistence at several times during the night that this is a party.  There’s little sense of the camaraderie that might have been expected after more than 20 years together, each of the band seems content to be in their own little space on the stage.

Maybe the strange atmosphere is because deep down, no one believes for a single second that this is the end, not even the women in the front row weeping uncontrollably and being shown on the big video screens to all.  No band breaks up for ever now; The Smiths are the only band I can think of that haven’t reformed and never will.  Whether it’ll be for a charity gig (I think the recent calls for them to reform to play a show to raise money for people affected by the flooding in SE Queensland came just too soon after their final shows), a wedding, a funeral, some sort of Q150 celebration, or just because 10, 15, or 20 years has gone by and “it’s time”, Powderfinger will play again. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

Earlier the evening You Am I play a short 30 minute, eight song greatest hits set (interestingly the original last song on their set list, Berlin Chair, has been crossed out and replaced with a hand-written “RUMBLE”). I don’t mind You Am I; I think Tim Rogers has written a fair few good songs, although, and as with Powderfinger, as I wasn’t here when they were at their commercial and critical heights, they probably don’t have anything like the same impact as the songs might have had if I’d grown up with them.

Sandwiched between You Am I and Powderfinger are Jet.

Confession time: when I saw Jet play their first UK gig, at the Camden Barfly, I was completely blown away.  They were the best live band I’d seen in ages and I saw them again a few times at small venues around London in the following months; at ULU, back at the Barfly and even a tiny gig at Pentonville Prison, the day of a huge power cut in London, which meant I ended up walking for 90 minutes to get from Waterloo to Caledonian Road in the absence of any tubes.  The photos I took at that first Barfly gig were, at the time, the best set of photos I’d taken at a gig and a photo from the Pentonville show is still one of my all-time favourite shots.  So bizarrely Jet were an important band in me pursuing music photography, as the photos from that gig gave me the confidence that I could take a set of good photos.   I don’t think I’ve every uploaded any of these photos; I should do, although in the fullness of time might realise that they’re not as good as I once thought.  Although it was difficult to track down, I finally managed to pick up a copy of their Dirty Sweet four track debut EP (from Reading HMV when I was out there for work if my memory serves me right) and loved it.  But then later that year they released their debut album, Get Born, and it was horrid.  The record had been mixed and mastered for radio play, was devoid of any dynamics and had sucked the life out of all the songs, making them limp and lifeless.  The songs that had been included from the debut EP (all four of them) were pale imitations of their originals. It sounded dreadful and that was where my endorsement of Jet ended.  Get Born went on to sell over 3.5m copies so it shows what I know.

Tonight Jet are fairly awful.  The really exciting, really raw live band I saw back in early 2003 reduced to plodding stadium fare for the assembled listeners of commercial radio stations, who I guess continue to support the band unabated.  It’s a shame and it only makes it harder to convince people how good they once were.

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