Live Review: Darren Middleton + Sahara Beck – The Vanguard, Sydney (28.08.15)

It’s always nice to see that, regardless of time, there are some Australian artists who continue to perform and remain mesmerising to watch each time you see them. Whether you saw Darren Middleton onstage with his former band Powderfinger. Or during the short-lived days of his earlier side-project band Drag. Or more recently flying solo under his own name. Each time he has been able to bring a little charm and charisma to the stage. Tonight was no exception.

Starting off his set with the pleadingly sweet “Walk On By” off his first record Translations, Middleton explains to us that tonight we’d be “tip-toeing through the past and charging into the future all whilst trying to remain present” which is a nice way of summing up the evening, as we moved between songs from his past and progress to songs from his forthcoming record Splinters.

His touring band mates Kelly Lane and Talei Wolfgramm join him onstage for his second song “The Less You Know”, a track from his Drag days, with Lane accompanying on violin and Wolfgramm on tambourine. Staying in the past, we’re treated to “Sunrise”, a song Middleton co-wrote with Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate) and in this stripped back rendition we enjoy a bit of a blues tinge to the sound and feel of the song.

One thing you’ll notice at Middleton’s shows is his inclination for onstage banter between songs, which he tends to be apologetic for, even though it’s obvious the crowd enjoys it. None of this ever seems like filler or time wasting, more an opportunity for him to explain where some of these songs originated from. In particular with “Lines” he waxes lyrical about how it’s about trying to stay between the lines of life; managing work, relationships, and social life and how this “friend” (though it sounds more like he’s talking about himself) was struggling to do it.

It’s actually quite refreshing to have not only the name of the song but a bit of an explanation about it from the songwriter prior to hearing it. Playing another new song for us he says it’s tentatively titled “Took My Voice” or “Ring The Bells” and asks the audience for a vote on the song title. Once the song ends though Middleton doesn’t count on a third option (pulled from the lyrics) being suggested by an audience member. I guess that gives him something to think on before Splinters goes to press.

We take a brief jump back to his first single off Translations with “Let Go” which, courtesy of his two lovely ladies backing him, is layered in sweet vocal harmonies. They then treat us to a stirring rendition of a cover of The Go Betweens’ “Streets Of Your Town”, with its jangly guitars and rollicking lyrics. For us Powderfinger fans, Middleton then follows up one Brisbane band with another by cracking out a dreamy vocal harmony driven “Love Your Way” laced with violin and guitar melodies. His support act Sahara Beck joins him onstage for another new track “Unless You Want Me To”.

He then regales us with a tale of how he and Kelly had been invited to a winery to do a commercial and perform and that the song “Fire To Your Heart” featured in that ad. It’s a cute little ditty that feels hopeful and optimistic. “Lions And Tigers” with its crazy and energetic violin and guitar breakdown at the end of the song is our second last. This leads us into the song that closes the set, another Powderfinger cover with “The Metre” which feels sombre but is warmed by the small audience singing along during the chorus.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more charming and genuinely heart-warming experience at a live show, and you can tell that Middleton, Lane and Wolfgramm enjoy playing together. But it’s their interaction with the crowd that makes it even more pleasurable for both artists and audience. Middleton mentioned earlier in the night that song-writing is an excavation of life and all the good and bad things. It’s clear that he has harvested these good and bad things and written some truly gorgeous, wistful songs. If this showcase for Middleton’s next album Splinters is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.

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Darren Middleton has two more preview shows coming up:
– Saturday 12 September at The Toff in Melbourne
– Friday 18 September at The Powerhouse Theatre in Brisbane

Tickets are available from the venues or his website, for more information on Darren Middleton visit his website or Facebook page.

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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.

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