With the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in town, laughs were as plentiful when jovial Brit Newton Faulkner presented his Bluesfest sideshow. The sold out show became a cosy cocoon of love for the artist. Local festival favourite singer-songwriter Tom Richardson opened the show. His increasingly impressive set of guitar and loop driven songs held the crowd. Nice to see such respect and attention for a support act.
Exuding an easy warmth, from his distinctive coiffe to colourful odd socks, Newton Faulkner charmed the already converted. From latest album Hit The Ground Running, ‘Smoked Ice Cream’ had punters singing along – surprisingly, in sweet harmony – from the first note. One female punter declared, ‘I still want to have your babies’. But it was the loud and proud chorus of male fans who struck me. Such tuneful devotion from so many blokes in a room could only be rivalled at an AC/DC gig. There was plenty of cheeky back-and-forth between artist and fans. And they were well up for a bit of accompanying three-part harmony action under Faulkner’s direction. He even invited the audience to stand in for loop accompaniment on one song. The title track from the new album has instant anthem written all over it and was received as a new favourite. Old and new songs kept coming between Faulkner’s witty, natural banter. ‘Write It On Your Skin’, ‘Fingertips’, ‘UFO’ and ‘Dream Catch Me’ showcased an expanding vocal palette and adventurous guitar stylings. His acclaimed cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ felt a little muted, as if multiple renditions have worn away the shine a little. But it’s such a wonderful song, it would’ve been disappointing had it been omitted. Faulkner is known as a virtuoso of percussive guitar yet there was never a hint of brash showiness on stage. The beaming masses crooned, clapped and laughed along through 90 minutes of sheer joy. Toward to the close, Faulkner asked if she should play ‘A’ or ‘B’ next and how should he do it? “You just play whatever youwant man,” came from within the crowd. Faulkner declared it the loveliest heckle ever. A left-field gag between fans and artist resulted in an impromptu group serenade of ‘Happy Birthday’. Faulkner (who’s birthday it wasn’t) declared he’d remember the wacky moment for the rest of his life. He wound up with the disclosure that he doesn’t do encores. (“Where I have to go off and stand awkwardly in another room first.”) Instead, he plays a longer show. I, for one, would go back for more in a heartbeat.