David Sefton’s inclusion of Van Dyke Parks in the 2013 Adelaide Festival was always something I’d been looking forward to, yet being at the show itself completely blew any expectations I’d previously had out of the water. The American composer, producer and everything else arts-related, it seems, brought with him a bit of a career retrospective through to the Thebarton Theatre, as well as two very special guests in Silverchair frontman/object of my teenage dreams, Daniel Johns and Grammy holding, NZ pop princess, Kimbra.
Backed by the Adelaide Art Orchestra, both Kimbra and Johns emerge from side stage to a hollering, excited response, which is only strongly continued when Parks himself comes out and seats himself at the piano. Though I’m seated in the lounge section of the theatre, the amount of fangirl/fanboy behaviour going on onstage was plainly obvious. Kimbra spends most of her time onstage shooting grins at Johns, who in turn, returns the smiles with admiring looks at his former collaborator, who comes across as the slightly crazy yet fabulously talented uncle who gets the kids together every Christmas for a sing along by the family piano. The crowd, though clearly under the spell of the endearing professor-like appearance of Parks, is also here to witness the first performance Johns has done in front of an Australian crowd in quite some time. The yells of ‘We love you Daniel!’ continue as the night goes on, with Kimbra and Parks adding fuel to the praise-fire too, prompting Johns to sheepishly smile and offer a few thanks here and there.
The first half of the show covers quite a bit of Parks’ discography; from “Vine Street” to “Orange Crate Art”, Parks reminds us just how involved he was in the fabric of American music from the 1960s onwards, although his quips in between each song in an attempt to establish context are just as eccentric and confusing as he himself is. Johns and Kimbra work well together, whether they were taking lead vocal duties or simply working with the AAO in backing Parks’ distinctive lead performance. “Cowboy” and “FDR in Trinidad” are some of the best moments of the first set, displaying Parks’ ever-outspoken nature and some fabulous musical work by the orchestra.
Moving forward in Parks’ musical chronology, the opening half an hour of the second half is dedicated to his time collaborating on the Silverchair albums Diorama and Young Modern. Prior to the performance, Parks asks the crowd to refrain from recording any of it, to keep something special for this crowd only. He commends Johns with his brave and skilled songwriting and musical direction at these points in Silverchair’s career; before Johns gives the performance many gathered here tonight have been waiting for. With Paul Mac at the piano, Kimbra adding some vocals and the AAO bringing the string arrangements to life, Johns performs some amazing renditions of the likes of “If You Keep Losing Sleep”, “All Across The World” and the seven and a half minute “Those Thieving Birds (Pt 1)/Strange Behaviour/Those Thieving Birds (Pt 2)”. “Tuna in the Brine” is dedicated to Parks and takes me right back to 2002 when Diorama proceeded to blow my mind for the first time. The reaction that is met at the end of this section of the show is amazing; everyone hopped up on Silverchair nostalgia juice, knowing that we’d experienced something incredibly one-off. While the percussion on these songs was still evident here, it was all about the orchestra’s navigation of the arrangements and marrying that with Johns’ vocals and guitar, it was a great run of performances.
Parks returns to lead the final thirty minutes or so, providing another highlight with “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, led by Johns on wailing lead vocals and guitar, while Parks bashed away on the keys. Closing with ‘homage’ to Australia, Parks finishes the show with “The All Golden”, with “Waltzing Matilda” blended in at the end. It was a show that earned two standing ovations and by the end of the second round of applause, I didn’t actually think I could take much more music. This was such a cool night of music, full of talent and unforgettable performances. The AAO again, amazing to watch and I was happy to see they weren’t simply relegated to ‘supporting musician’ status. Watching people stream out of the theatre tonight, I had to smile at the families walking out, kids excitedly chattering; if this isn’t a start to a musical education, I don’t know what is.