In “Magnetic”, Dan Sultan sang, “I’m trying to keep it simple/But I’m a complicated man.” Never were truer words uttered. Sultan’s one-off show at the Enmore Theatre certainly saw him keeping things modest. With his commanding voce and an acoustic guitar, he charmed the audience. The songs were wistful about the past and also had a hopefulness for the future, in what was a perfect panacea for these crazy, Covid times.
The evening saw Sultan fresh from the Midnight Oil tour performing two sets. The first half was dedicated to mostly previewing new material from his forthcoming record- due out later this year. Starting with the new single, “Tarred & Feathered,” this saw his velvet vocals soar to the roof of the Enmore where they remained for much of the night. Sultan was in his element as the consummate yarn-spinner as he introduced us all to a night filled with songs about “Being a shit boyfriend and a great husband!”
Sultan’s new life as a family man suits him. He performed a song dedicated to his 22-month-old daughter. It was a sweet and soulful lullaby brimming with love. We appreciated that he was doing this “For her,” even if he made a cheeky aside about needing to make money in an industry challenged by the pandemic. Other songs also featured Sultan’s wife, Bronnie Jane Lee who has been instrumental in Sultan’s maintaining sobriety. At times the kinds of raw and heartfelt emotions on display here would have appealed to fans of Josh Pyke’s music.
Other material in the first half included a gut-wrenching song about Sultan’s experience with racism as a young boy living in Melbourne. He also performed two older tracks “Never Let You Down” from the record Get It While You Can and a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio.” The latter is a song that Sultan has claimed as his own despite its Americana sensibility.
Sultan was quite self-deprecating in saying that he wanted a “black stage and outfit” and to sing “depressing songs”. There was certainly more than sheer darkness to be found in the emotions here. Yes, he had kept things simple but it’s a testament to his performing chops and natural charisma that he could command the audience and keep them enthralled for full two sets with little more than an acoustic guitar and a handful of chords.
The second half of the night was devoted to Sultan performing stripped back versions of his classic tracks. “Old Fitzroy” was well-received by the crowd thanks to its bluesy atmosphere. “Dirty Ground” meanwhile, was a loose and crisp song. In fact it could be argued that the proceedings – including the tunes – had a ramshackle silliness to things. Sultan steered this ship in various directions- including starting and stopping numbers before beginning again. It kept the audience on their toes and made things entertaining to witness.
“Lonesome Tears” had all the Western outlaw gangster vibes of the original. “Kingdom” was the same bucket full of yearning that it always was. In “Kimberley Calling” Sultan was at his earthy best, going back to country before leaving us with the soft and gentle, “Cul-de-sac.” The latter was co-written by The Presets’ Julian Hamilton who was in the audience and Sultan didn’t make good on his mischievous promise to cover “My People.”
Sultan’s set had taken the audience on various twists and turns through his life and career. The new material shows a thoughtful maturity and a forthright honestly in its approach. These new gems sat well alongside Sultan’s crowd favourites and his fabulous anecdotes (these really need to be published into a book!).
Sultan will return later in the year, so if you’re after something heartfelt that sparkles with human emotions in full technicolour then you need look no further.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
To keep up to date with all things Dan Sultan please visit his official website HERE.
This performance took place on 27 March 2021 at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney.