These fans seemed to not share the opinion of my guest and myself that the show suffered from one of the most self-sabotaging openings in recent memory. A video screen with aerial passes over the Australian landscape and contrived poses didn’t add to the programme. Even having a voiceover from notable elder Uncle Jack Charles couldn’t stop this sequence being a flimsy ad for the album when he’s clearly reading a media release.
And if there was any doubt about the commercial angle (when people had already paid to be here), it was quenched by the September 2016 release date in the final frames. In a show advertised as an hour long, we shouldn’t have had to wait about 20 minutes to get through such puff before the live music could start.
Identifying as a Gunditjmara/Bundjalung man, Roach described his 10th studio album as being about the various forms of love. This is fair if you take a very broad definition of the word. Roach and his seven-piece band delivered a solid set of country-tinged tunes, some a little slower, and the odd rocky one a little faster. It was pleasing to hear a recognisably Australian flavour in the tracks.
It was unfortunate that some over-amplification obscured Roach’s lyrics at times. Some variety was added to the set by the sparing use of two clearly talented groups, Short Black Opera and Dhungala Children’s Choir, as backing singers. Similarly, Emma Donovan’s cameos added some richness to the offerings.
In between numbers, Roach related tales, some a bit unclear, concerning experiences that informed his songs. There was potential for Roach to give us white folks some more understanding of challenges and triumphs of indigenous peoples, appropriately for this “First Nations Arts Festival”. Yet, when we heard snippets, such as a reflection on spending his upbringing with three foster families, this didn’t progress towards sharing any great insight.
Let Love Rule is not about to push contemporary music in any new direction or pose any awkward questions to the listener. Still, Roach shows himself to be a resilient performer and personality, following a series of personal hardships. He’s also retained his expressive voice 30 years after his Charcoal Lane debut release. Roach and his collaborators pleased many in the house, as shown by widespread participation in a standing ovation.
Archie Roach: Let Love Rule
Playhouse – Arts Centre melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, melbourne
Performance: Saturday 13 May 2017 – 8.00pm
Image: Archie Roach (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte