As far as icons go in rock ’n’ roll, Peter Garrett is one of the most distinctive. That inconceivably long-limbed physique, pronounced cheekbones and pale, bald head. The jerky, flailing movements and that authoritative bark and howl. With an extended absence from the live stage the audience could be forgiven for forgetting how commanding a stage presence the man has, until he strides out and completely owns the room’s attention for the entire length of the show.
Ahead of that entrance, WA’s Abbe May (also an Alter Egos member) played a set that covered her rock and blues past and previewed tracks from her forthcoming Bitchcraft album, with it’s decidedly 90s R&B sound. As a reference point she covered Ginuwine’s Pony plus a beautifully stripped back take on the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. At times it was a tad too funk-rock but there’s no denying May’s singing and songwriting abilities and her sense of musical adventure.
In the Alter Egos, Peter Garrett has assembled a stellar band, perfectly balanced between rock chops, session player solidity and a vibe of relaxed enjoyment. Jet’s Mark Wilson was superb on bass, Peter Luscombe’s drumming never missed a beat and keyboardist Rosa Morgan impressed with her playing and vocals. The real joy though was seeing Martin Rotsey of Midnight Oil bouncing and lurching beside Garrett, a wry smile often sneaking out as the band locked in and rode the rhythms and melodies.
They’ve already announced that the Oils will return next year so that lessened the pressure for Garrett and co to play to nostalgia. Instead it was a showcase of his recent solo album A Version Of Now, with Homecoming (including two of his daughters on backing vocals), Great White Shark and It Still Matters the standouts. From there Garrett, who’s voice sounds better than ever, took great pleasure in honouring some of Australia’s finest songwriters with covers of the Divinyls’ Back To The Wall, Skyhooks’ Ego and Kev Carmody. Of course they couldn’t leave the crowd without a Oils song or two. Early in the set we were treated to the thrilling speed riffing of Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) but the real treat came during the penultimate encore with the previously seated audience rushing the stage, chanting the opening strains of the (here’s that word again) iconic Dead Heart. It was a truly celebratory moment to complete a night that marked another turning point in Garrett’s life, before the big show begins in earnest in 2017.