mon 22/07/2024

Robert Forster, Lafayette review - élan, spontaneity and thoughtfulness from the former Go-Between | reviews, news & interviews

Robert Forster, Lafayette review - élan, spontaneity and thoughtfulness from the former Go-Between

Robert Forster, Lafayette review - élan, spontaneity and thoughtfulness from the former Go-Between

Time spent in a continuum where the past and present are indivisible

Robert Forster: not rock, showbiz or showyStephen Booth

“Learn to Burn” generates the loudest and most sustained applause. As it was originally the opening track of Robert Forster’s 2015 album Songs to Play, the response is unexpected. It’s preceded by a version of his old band The Go-Betweens’ “Spring Rain,” and this London show follows the February release of his most recent album The Candle and the Flame – which would be an assumed focus of attention. So would an old favourite. This is a dedicated, attentive audience.

But still, the reaction is surprising. Just before “Spring Rain” – the set’s sixth song – Forster mutters “it’s going well.” Up to this point, four songs draw from The Candle and one, “One Bird in the Sky,” is from its predecessor album, 2019’s Inferno. The response to “Learn to Burn” soon confirmed it was going well.

Everything played resonates with freshness, whenever it is from or whatever its original credit

Experiencing this 90-minute summary of how Australia’s Forster chooses to represent himself is enlightening. Clearly, his fans – it’s a committed crowd at this sold-out show – see him in the round, not just about who he was but also where he is now and recently. Evidently, it’s the same for Forster, who first appeared on record in 1978 with The Go-Betweens, a band he co-founded in 1977. Back then, he took encouragement from some figurative lodestones: David Bowie, Lou Reed, David Byrne and Tom Verlaine. All are name-checked in The Candle's “When I Was a Young Man” – up third here. Given all this, the evening ends with the feeling Brisbane resident Robert Forster sees the passing of time as fluid, a continuum in which the past is as alive as the now. At age 65, his élan confirms he’s not letting the accumulating years reduce his vitality.

Forster and his acoustic guitar are accompanied by his seated son Louis, whose own band The Goon Sax folded last year. Swapping between acoustic guitar and electric bass, he subtly fills out his father’s songs. Though there are odd whispered exchanges between the pair, interactions are mainly limited to the music.

Robert Forster stands, moving with the music – like a slowed-down, less extreme version of Wilko Johnson’s skittering crossed with the reptilian sinuousness of Sixties pop star Dave Berry. Curious and unique. Countenance wise, there’s a bit of American actor James Cromwell in there. Nothing is rock, showbiz or showy. The shoes are sensible lace-ups. His presence fascinates.

As do the songs. The 16-song set is followed by a four-song encore. Just-less than half are from The Go-Betweens repertoire: from their original run to 1989 and their 2000 to 2006 reunion, abruptly curtailed by the death of Forster’s long-time foil Grant McLennan. The only song not solely written by Forster is “Boundary Rider,” credited to Forster/McLennan when it appeared on the 2005 Go-Betweens album Oceans Apart. Everything played resonates with freshness, whenever it is from or whatever its original credit. A kinetic “Danger in the Past” is fantastic. “She's a Fighter,” one of The Candle and the Flame’s responses to Forster's wife and musical partner Karin Bäumler’s cancer diagnosis, is particularly compelling. However many times he’s done this, Forster summons power.

There’s also a spontaneity. Despite the set sticking with what it’s previously been on this UK tour, there are a few fluffs. The intro to “Did She Overtake You” is messed up. Louis Forster picks up the bass when he’s meant be playing the acoustic guitar. During a gap to allow tuning, there’s an explanation of “Darlinghurst Nights'” inspiration – the evening’s only digression or explanation. Forster is taken with the venue, saying “I feel like I’m at the Globe Theatre in 1598.” The 600-capacity Lafayette opened couple of years ago. Mumford and Sons’s Ben Lovett is behind it. He wanted somewhere echoing places his band had played in Alabama and Louisiana. Though squeaky clean and lacking a comforting careworn vibe it works really well, coming across as a large, multi-roomed cantina. The faux bricked-in doorways and windows are fun. Within, it’s utterly at odds with the blank functionality of its new-build external shell and the ranks of adjacent, similar cookie-cutter blocks recently constructed in this area behind King’s Cross station.

Some of the songs Forster plays are meditations triggered by passing through the built environment – “The Roads”, set closer “Here Comes a City”. Others link in with experiencing natural aspects of the environment: “Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)”, “Spring Rain”. He remarks that when he lived in London, this area didn’t look as it does now and that he doesn’t want what it was to be forgotten. Perhaps the temporal disconnect – and also the physical one between Lafayette and what's outside its doors – will inspire one of his thoughtful songs.


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