Renowned for their incisive integration of crooked guitars and radio-friendly hooks, Brisbane bred outfit Powderfinger for a while were Australia’s most exalted alternative acts. ARIA Music Awards, chart dominance, national acclaim; little could be better for the quintet. 2010. Game over.
However, out of the Powderfinger wreckage emerged their congenial front-man and songwriter Bernard Fanning. Such was his group’s universal appeal, the 45 year old still cuts a direct, amiable figure. His music now shifting into the realms of bluesy folk – his days charging with mic in hand across festival stages an outlying recollection, now replaced by an evolved figurine set behind his battered acoustic – Fanning still retains the vocal sophistication that heightened Powderfinger’s commercial allure. Here inside at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, all the overtones Fanning evokes flourished under the forceful murmurs of a ‘pay-day’ Thursday night audience.
Fanning is affable. Ebulliently he took down British hot-spots such as Yorkshire and Glasgow; sentiments that challenged the initial mellowness of ‘Unpicking a Puzzle’ – his voice rich in its melodically quaking passages, its bodied with the stripped framework generated through his fingerpicked guitar progressions – and ‘Departures (Blue Toowong Skies)’ – harboring thoughts upon ‘the beautiful truth’ in a vein similar to that of the damaged offspring of Sam Amidon and Tyler Walker. So often his mind would wander, displaying the carefree complexities of his thought-processes; traits incumbent through his works.
Four minute flashbacks to his original group’s catalogue became reminiscent sound-bites for the chanting audience; once carried by heavier, rock-orientated principles, they became sincere odes to his memories. “We didn’t want to do a farewell tour and take millions of money from our fans, I’d rather just do this,” as the sun-kissed reawakening of ‘Sunsets’ entered. ‘These Days’ and ‘Sail and the Wildest Stretch’ followed down this wistful route.
The harmonica rattled through ‘Not Finished Yet’ – hesitant within its rhythmic feel, the bluegrass feeling of sugarcoated sadness that the likes of American Andrew Combs embody, added a brittler energy to his sound – and ‘Songbird’ engendered the summer fueled euphoria Fanning has become accustomed to creating.
Under the softening glow of the beatnik auditorium Fanning proved there is life after Powder. A life that is less chaotic, less injurious and less grasping. Fanning’s burgeoning career as one of Australia’s finest songwriters of the last 20 years is building once more; to such an extent he’s removing himself from any afterthoughts of powder at all.
Words by Clive K Hammond