Waywards is packed tonight as the crowd eagerly anticipates the return of Jen Cloher to Gadigal land. She hasn’t played here for a long time and much has changed since then. These days her backing band is made up of a who’s who of Melbourne musicians that includes Jen Sholakis (drums) Nathalie Pavlovic (bass) Anika Ostendorf (keyboards) and Robert Wrigley (lead guitar.) It’s a veritable supergroup!
Cloher is supported by Lady Lyon who delivers a flawless masterclass of sumptuous country rock and Second Idol a band that is growing in stature and has developed into one of the premier alt-rock bands in Sydney. Both bands mention how honoured they are to be opening for the legendary Cloher tonight.
Then, with little fanfare, Cloher and her band stroll on stage and the crowd moves in closer. They’ve missed her and it’s obvious that the feeling is mutual. After the first song, Cloher yells “Fuck that feels good!”. Yes it does Jen.
The setlist tonight is a mixture of old and new songs, it is hard to believe that it has been 5 years since Cloher released her last album. She kicks the show off with ‘Forgot Myself’, the audience grooves along to the song. Cloher speaks about how much has changed in the last 5 years and I feel that we are all very aware of that tonight-this is emphasised by the fact that a few in the crowd are wearing face masks – a stark reminder of the destruction that has been wrought by Covid on the music industry in particular.
Cloher is relaxed and engaging and chats to the crowd in between songs. She reminisces about the song ‘Black Velvet‘ and Sholakis reveals an intimate story about Wrigley’s first exposure to that song. Cloher jokes about getting older and how she will be turning 50 in 18 months. It’s a bit like having a catch up with your big sister after a long absence. ‘Sensory Memory’ is a song about missing someone who is away and it perfectly sums up the ambience in the room tonight.
I am struck by Cloher’s candour as she reveals how she relatively recently learned about the concept of non-binary and how, as a result, she changed the lyrics of her song ‘Strong Woman’. The original lyrics went ‘This world it wasn’t made for women / You know even before you’re bleeding.’ Tonight instead of ‘bleeding’ Cloher sings ‘teething’ because “all women teeth”. I get the feeling that everyone in the room wants to give her a hug.
We are treated to two new songs that Cloher says will be on her next album. ‘Harakeke’ is a beautiful, wistful tune that is a nod to her ancestry and heritage. The other new track is the hard rocking ‘Being Human’ in which Cloher, sans guitar goes into full lead singer mode. During ‘Being Human’ I find myself thinking that Cloher is perhaps Australia’s equivalent of Patti Smith, our poet laureate, our conscience, she represents everything that is good about this country. (Even though she is originally from New Zealand!) Ironically, the band next launches into a cover version of Smith’s ‘Land’ off the ‘Horses’ album. It’s a blistering interpretation of this classic song. There’s another legend in the room tonight, Lindy Morrison of the Go-Betweens is standing at the side of the stage and for a moment I think that I feel Smith’s presence too.
I have heard that Cloher intends returning to New Zealand to live, later this year. Selfishly, I hope that this isn’t true. Australia needs people like Cloher, music is a powerful force for good and we need musicians with a social conscience to guide us through these times where our political leaders appear to be absent. Even the ancient philosophers recognised this.
Plato said that “music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.
Fear is like a Forest
Strong Woman (solo)
Land (Patti Smith cover)
Name In Lights