Live music finally breaks through lockdown


As Bernard Fanning sang during one of the first arena shows in Australia since the pandemic shut down gigs in March: "These days turned out nothing like I had planned."

Gigs are slowly creeping back into the Australian consciousness after eights months of enforced hibernation.

Music helped get people through the hellscape of 2020 and now the artists and technicians and crew and promoters - the actual gig economy - with government and health experts, are working out what a concert looks like in December 2020.

It's impossible not to think of ourselves as lucky as Bernard Fanning, Matt Corby and Merci, Mercy perform at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday night.


Bernard Fanning. Picture: Cybele Malinowski
Bernard Fanning. Picture: Cybele Malinowski

Yet the elephant is taking up a lot of room for some fans considering the arena is next door to a stadium where 40,000 people screamed and cheered during the NRL grand final last month.

The divide between the governance of mass gatherings for sport versus the arts remains confusing and inconsistent.

"It's hard to sit down," shouts a fan to Fanning during a break in songs during the entertaining concert.

He addressed the elephant early on in the gig asking "How's the no dancing thing? Are we in an episode of Footloose?" knowing as on midnight on Sunday some of those restrictions will be relaxed.

Regardless of the new world of COVIDSafe constraints on live entertainment, Fanning and his guests brought their A games.

Great songs, superb production with Fanning's visual backdrop hypnotically compelling, the gig was worth being a test dummy.


Bernard Fanning played a CovidSafe indoor cancer. Picture: Cybele Malinowski
Bernard Fanning played a CovidSafe indoor cancer. Picture: Cybele Malinowski


"You can't dance but you can clap and you can stomp," Fanning advised as he launched into his solo hit Songbird.

"This is so weirdly awesome what's happening right now," he said.

Some other concert signatures reared their heads. Fans shone and waved their camera torches in pockets through the safe spaces constructed among the crowd of about 5000.

And there would have been thousands of older fans in the audience who would have welcomed the sit down affair, confident and comfortable they could enjoy it without an unobstructed view of the stage.

As performer and fan adjust to our current gig reality, the good news is we're up for it.

The artists are putting the best gigs under the circumstances and the fans are backing them.



They are probably the only band Powderfinger would be OK about blocking their first new record in a decade from a No. 1 debut.

The chart dominance of AC/DC's comeback record Power Up narrowly kept the 'Finger's new collection of songs from the vault, Unreleased (1998-2010), from the top of the ARIA top 50 albums this week.

Power Up celebrated its third week at No. 1 while Powderfinger landed at No. 2 for the second time in 2020.

The 20th anniversary reissue of their seminal Odyssey No. 5 album went to No. 2 when it was released in September.

Unreleased and Power Up were in a battle for the chart summit all week, with Angus Young's veteran rockers pulling in front by a "small but significant amount" of sales and streams at the tail end of last week.

But Powderfinger couldn't be too disappointed coming in at No. 2 behind the legendary rock band.


Powderfinger’s ‘Unreleased’ landed at No. 2 for the second time in 2020. Picture: Supplied/Ian Jennings
Powderfinger’s ‘Unreleased’ landed at No. 2 for the second time in 2020. Picture: Supplied/Ian Jennings


Unreleased has scored rave reviews from critics and fans for the studio album which features songs stretching from the sessions for their Internationalist album through to the final band-room jams in Brisbane before they called a day in 2010.

"I actually think it's right up there; it's as good as any of those albums from that middle period that became really popular," lead singer Bernard Fanning said.

As the chart news came through on Saturday, Fanning was soundchecking for his performance for the final Greatest Southern Nights arena concert.

With award-winning chart-topper Matt Corby and rising indie pop artist Merci, Mercy also on the bill, Fanning headlined only the second major arena concert in Australia since COVID-19 shut down the global live entertainment industry.

That gig, a week after he played outdoors to about 8000 people at the Sandstone Point Hotel in Queensland, served as a test run for COVIDSafe big gigs.

Less than 48 hours before the NSW Government's boosted the capacity of indoor venues to 75 per cent and outdoor stadiums to 100 per cent, Fanning and his musical guests were limited to a crowd of 6000 people in an arena which could hold 20,000 fans.


Originally published as Live music finally breaks through lockdown