On a foggy Friday afternoon I find myself crossing Sydney Harbour in a ferry bound for my first experience of “Twilight at Taronga” to see an old favourite – Something for Kate – take the stage in this memorable and special location.
The Project U team were still being pushed in their strollers up and down the many hills of Sydney’s finest elephant enclosure by exhausted parents when Something for Kate released their first album back in 1996. I was glad to be here, to be visiting again, in yet another role – concert reviewer.
As my hubby and I made our way down the steep Taronga Zoo pathways past sleeping Pelicans, baby spider monkeys and around the Elephants with their distinctive aroma, I thought about all the times I had been here, at the Zoo, in my life. As a five year old girl in awe of the animals, as a teenager on a school biology excursion avoiding teachers, on an awkward date as a 17 year old and the last time as a mother of two (now grown) boys chasing them as they raced from animal to animal before collapsing on the ferry ride home.
We arrived at the venue – a grassed split level lawn with a Canvas dome stage draped by the harbour and the Sydney skyline with light fading into an almost watercolour through the mist. Even on a rainy afternoon it was breathtaking.
Around two thousand fellow picnickers were relaxing on the grass sipping champagne and beers and nibbling their way through all sorts of picnic concoctions. The atmosphere was very relaxed. We had arrived in time to hear the last few songs of the support act Jen Cloher and her band. Jen is a singer songwriter who I had not come across before but who impressed immensely with a strong sound, solid guitar work and poignant lyrics. She had a hard task being support act at such a relaxed venue but her final song and most recent release “Needle in the Hay” was a strong finisher and generated her some well-deserved applause.
With twilight now long faded and fog bathing the lights of the city the ambiance was as if a lighting technician’s diffuser were cast across the sky. It was quite beautiful. The crowd cheered the arrival of Something for Kate who launched into ‘Cigarettes and Suitcases’. The 30 something’s with their kids on designer picnic blankets, the hipsters checking each other out and us oldies up the back glad to be out amongst it all, well just glad to be out actually.
Sounding tight with a stand in bass player SFKs production and sound was absolutely first class, the musicianship brilliant. The performance however for the first three quarters of the show could only be described as lacklustre and even the perennial favourite “ Monsters“ failed to raise more than an approving round of applause from the now sombre (but not all that sober) audience. Perhaps the missing Stephanie Ashworth on bass factored not into the quality of the music but the quality of the performance.
After an hour or so as I contemplated that perhaps my expectations were dashed. Paul Dempsey then took the stage solo with acoustic guitar in hand, back lit by a single spot and with the fog machine doing its thing he produced an outstanding rendition of ‘Deep Sea Diver’. Following this the band re-joined him and they propelled forward into a rock version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. There was a visceral change in the audience, people started singing, clapping, cheering and a growing group of fans moved to the front of the stage to get up close and personal with SFK.
Over the next five or six songs the audience were hooked. Electricity and Three Dimensions were stand out performances, the band were engaged, the audience were pumped and Something for Kate had made their way through the fog and began to deliver us a rock concert.
….and then all too soon it was over… as if only just begun. The band ended with lights up and a guitar left to feedback on stage until a roadie disconnected it from its pedal. Harsh ending I thought. It was over. The crowd seemed slightly perplexed but gradually started making their way homewards.
We made our way back down through Taronga’s pathways past the old and the new aquarium to the Ferry. The event was a mixed dose of memories and music and as I reflected on my journey through time at the zoo I sort of came to realise that it was like every day at Taronga – an absolutely magical location in rain, fog or shine with amazing views. I mused that we tend to leave the Zoo satisfied but wishing it wasn’t quite over yet and vowing to come back another day.