Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena saw the largest live music event in Australia since March on Saturday night (28th). As expected, this arena show looked very different to a pre-covid world with the crowd capped to 6,000 in the 21,000 person arena, but the quality of music and the eagerness in the crowd was not diminished.
The bill almost reflected a mini festival with Ocean Alley headlining; supported by Jack River and Ruby Fields; and opened by Jack Botts. However, unlike a festival, this event was sporadically seated with a chair booked between every ticket and multiple spaces between groups. A strict ‘no standing’ rule was in place, meaning even standing in your seat to dance was a no-go (we’d later see about that). Regardless, it was set to be an epic return of spectacle-enhanced live music.
Jack Botts graced the stage in a very quintessential Byron style: barefoot. His singer-songwriter surf folk was an easy introduction to the crowd, delivered smoothly by his sun-bleached ringlets and humble magnetism – he “almost pissed” himself when he found out he was on the line-up for this Great Southern Nights gig. A nod of approval must go to his saxophonist who had the crowd clapping along and waving to new fans. It was also sweet to see Jack embrace his band mates individually at the conclusion of his set with “Gypsy”, displaying just how personally momentous this performance was for him.
The first support, Ruby Fields, brought her rugged Aussie charm to the night, sinking two beers across her set (sometimes mid-song) and firing off a fair few swear words in classic Ruby style. She pointed out how empowering it felt to say her lyrics ‘chronic masturbator’ in such a prestigious venue where the likes of Fleetwood Mac have played. We love her for it. A highlight of her set was FaceTiming her mum for “Redneck Lullaby”, a song she wrote about their relationship. The crowd lit up their phone lights and swayed in the background while her mum perched on a speaker overlooking Ruby and the arena. For the final moments of the track, Ruby serenaded her mum against the sea of dancing lights. Again, it was another reminder of just how phenomenal the going-ahead of this night was and the silver lining of homegrown musicians getting the opportunity to play larger celebrated home venues. Ruby rounded out her set with “Dinosaurs” where the crowd felt the rumbling urges of getting up and dancing.
Jack River drenched the stage in pink and blue lights, upping the ante with a more established light show and polished performance opened by a welcome to country. She took us back with hits from Sugar Mountain but also performed new tracks from her 2020 EP Stranger Heart. Her track Sugar with Peking Duk was reworked for a “seated” audience, with Jack knowing the original version would definitely encourage vertical dancing. She mentioned she’d layered in a Aqua reference to this arrangement, but honestly, it must have been subtle because it sounded much like a paired back rendition rather than a rework. A poll of those around me also showed no one else caught the Aqua in her “Sugar”. Jack gave a naturally revered performance in her quintessential shimmery pink – I only wish her band matched her look for this iconic performance (they usually dress all white, but ditched the unified front for this show).
Then came the pinnacle of the night: Ocean Alley. Their silhouetted bodies against vivid lights and shifting graphics plunged the audience right back to the heyday of festivals. Only their set felt lacklustre to their usual headlining spot – maybe it was the heat of the record-breaking day catching up with the audience or the lucidity of the room, but there was a good half-hour stretch of songs that seemly merged into one indistinguishable track. It was only when hits such as “Confidence”, “Yellow Mellow” and their encore “Knees” arrived did the audience perk up and startle the security with their adventurous dancing.
Set to be the greatest return of live music, the night flowed along gently with no crescendo to round it out. Here’s to hoping next weekend’s instalment of Bernard Fanning and Matt Corby bring the grandiose celebration this industry deserves.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Catch the second instalment of Greatest Southern Nights on December 5 at Qudos Bank Arena featuring Bernard Fanning and Matt Corby.
Header image credit: Jess Gleeson