In the two years since releasing their magical debut album, Run Home Slow, The Teskey Brothers have been incredibly busy and become overwhelmingly accomplished. Playing numerous completely sold out tours (despite the live music landscape being in complete disarray), winning awards and accolades left, right and centre, the Melbourne band has still managed to find time to spice things up a little by teaming up with Orchestra Victoria and rework some of their best tracks, while throwing in a couple of seasonal treats.
The nature of The Teskey Brothers’ music lends itself well to being reimagined by an orchestra, there’s no doubt about it. A strong blues and roots sub-base and the husky vocals from frontman Josh Teskey means there’s no surprise at all that their music has blended so seamlessly with Orchestra Victoria. With this in mind, there isn’t too many unexpected turns and overly outlandish change-ups to their back catalogue that the orchestra permits here on Live at Hamer Hall.
“Let Me Let You Down” takes its rightful place as album opener, just as it does on Run Home Slow. Delivered in much the same tone and style as it is on the album, the addition of the brass and strings in the chorus is the real differentiation on this version of the song. A surprising and welcome flute in the bridge brings the track into a new field, before the orchestral build over the closing chorus ties everything together so well you begin to question why the band didn’t consider recording it like this all along.
While not an overly upbeat band with always rollicking songs, the nature of the orchestra generally only affords the band the opportunity to play some of their more downbeat and solemn songs. While I’m sure it’s completely possible, the live album doesn’t lean into some of the more upbeat tracks such as “Man of the Universe”, “Sun Come Ease Me In” or live stand out “Louisa”. It’s not a big deal, but the removal of these types of songs does prevent the album from reaching the heights I know the band can reach; especially in a live setting. All things considered, the album is still just about everything you’d hope for from a band x orchestra collaboration.
The emotional love song “Carry You” follows “Let Me Let You Down”, allowing the album to open with a crisp and complete one-two punch. Probably one of the songs that blends most effortlessly between studio and live recording is “Say You’ll Do”, one of the band’s bluesiest tracks to date. Its extended run allows the listener to fully embrace the emotion of Josh Teskey, while the orchestral climax in the closing chorus is the cherry on the top.
A playful band in a live setting at the best of times, you can still sense the fun and loving vibes on “I Get Up”, as the orchestra, mainly through the horn section, adds another avenue of depth to a song that even on the studio version already has multiple layers. The three-peat of “Rain”, “San Francisco” and “So Caught Up” is the glue that holds the middle of the album together, with each track being just different enough from their studio version to keep you interested.
Obviously a targeted release based on the time of the year, the band has managed to squeeze in a couple of seasonal tracks in the form of “Dreaming of a Christmas With You” and “Highway Home for Christmas”. Originally released as singles in 2020, “Dreaming of a Christmas With You” has an uplifting and loving sentiment, as Josh Teskey dreams and wishes for a reunion with his family and loved ones after nearly two years of ongoing lockdowns, while “Highway Home for Christmas” puts the listener (and orchestra) firmly in the driver’s seat as it evokes the emotions and anticipation you experience while driving home after being away for a while, the anticipation of seeing your family once more almost unbearable. “Highway Home for Christmas” is like a shiraz; completely full-bodied, as Orchestra Victoria once more puts their best foot forward and beefs up the sound and arrangement.
The album closes on live set and sentimental favourite “Hold Me”. In a regular live setting, “Hold Me” can often be performed over a magical and drawn out ten minutes. The magic is evident from the opening notes, with an almost Harry Potter feel delivered by the orchestra, before the handclaps, harmonies and simplicity of the original come to fruition. Again, it’s not until the closing chorus and outro that the entire weight of the orchestra is felt, with the song being bookended by the same composition from the orchestra.
Live at Hamer Hall isn’t a traditional live album in the way you’d normally expect a ‘live’ album to be recorded, and it’s for this reason the album doesn’t quite reach the heights you’d hope it would. Sure it’s polished and sounds outstanding, but lacks the body and vibe you’d want and hope for from a live album. This isn’t to say the album sounds bad; it’s far from it, however Live at Hamer Hall falls just short of where it needs to be. With a string of live shows to follow the release of the album, I’m 100% sure Live at Hamer Hall will sound much better in a completely natural and firsthand setting.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Live at Hamer Hall is out Friday 3 December.
The Teskey Brothers head out tour in the first half of 2022, including a headlining show at Sydney Festival. Head here to view the dates and venues.
Header image credit: Nick McKinlay