Flying low on his solo effort
Robert Forster ... at his Brisbane home. Photo: Glenn Hunt
The Vanguard, November 10
As one friend put it late in the show, there was a lot of goodwill in the room for Robert Forster this night, the last of a three-week, one-man tour. It's something which carried the elegantly greying Queenslander a bit further than the performance justified.
Solo though, neither his guitar playing nor his voice are advanced or varied enough to accentuate the oddities of his approach.
For those of us of a certain inclination (slightly pretentious, lightly bookish, keen for wit as well as tunes, and happy to play a fraction left of mainstream) and of a certain age (clearly for the majority here, the 1980s/early '90s had been prime adult playground years) Forster's work in the Go-Betweens is borderline sacred.
The reaction to GoB's songs such as Part Company and, particularly, The Clarke Sisters was warm, bordering on loving. His solo albums weren't too bad either as could be told by the immediate and buoyant response to Danger In The Past and Baby Stones and the straight enjoyment of a droll new song which began “I love myself and always have”.
However, some of the things which have always made Forster attractively different within a band setting can serve to weaken the result when alone. His songs have always been simultaneously simple and oddly shaped, balanced between his Patti Smith and Dylan leanings and his Monkees sensibilities. It's what stopped his songs ever being genuine radio threats - unlike Grant McClennan's more straightforward and immediate, but nonetheless charming Streets of your Town, which Forster played as an unspoken tribute to his late musical partner.
But when given shape by the arrangements, and direction by the other instruments, you could regularly see shards of genius in Forster's work. Solo though, neither his guitar-playing nor his voice are advanced or varied enough to accentuate the oddities of his approach. And for reasons which someone more knowledgeable than me might be able to explain, the guitar sounded cheap and tinny.
Here the songs seemed to languish in a kind of repetitive holding pattern, a frustrating result when you know how interesting they are, and Forster wasn't able to lift them clear on his own.