The Music Lounge Friday 18th August 2017
Endless expressions of lyrical profundity render Mr. Shane Nicholson the thinking man’s lyricist. Skillfully mastering an apparent seamless balance between phrasing, theme and instrumentation render him one of the most highly regarded talents of his generation in this country.
Many prominent music accolades will further attest. A sterling disposition that is definitely neither coincidental nor accidental. In fact, rightfully awarded to one whose humble beginnings were pretty much ceremoniously anointed when having first put pen to paper as a focused, young boy of thirteen, driven by a burning desire to write songs. That’s right, thirteen years of age. Kind of makes you feel all sorts of inadequate, doesn’t it? You’re in good company.
I pondered such exemplary standards set by Mr. Nicholson, from my excellently positioned seat adjacent to the stage at Brookvale’s The Music Lounge on Friday 18th August, as I waited eagerly for our artist in residence to appear.
Up close and personal, I can confidently report back that a sharply presented Mr. Nicolson cut a dashingly handsome figure up on stage. Easy on the eye, one might say. Oh settle your sniggering. I know I’m married. But if I weren’t though… but I am… so I shan’t. Woe Is Mine.
Right off the cuff, Mr. Nicholson was warm and engaging, he promised a charming evening I thought to myself. We embraced the amiable aura he exuded as much as the opener for the evening, a stellar track off last album, ARIA award winning ‘Hell Breaks Loose’.
An air of bittersweet, almost self-deprecating, melancholy filled the stage as the unmistakable guitar strings signaled the first notes to a hauntingly honest ‘Secondhand Man’. A raw and exposed Mr. Nicholson at his acoustic best, continued to beg the painstaking question, “…Hoping I can be a better man and if I can what then if I ain’t got you…”, one couldn’t help but feel deeply moved, as it set the tone for the night ahead with great immediacy.
Witty banter and instinctual story telling were conducive to a relaxed and interactive dynamic between humble artist and delighted audience. Whilst some performers opt to solely promote their most current material during a live show, we were spoilt with an extended array of superb selections from an impressive back catalogue. We welcomed one such old friend, as the up-tempo twang of authentic country feel good ‘Jimmie Rogers Was A Vampire’ consumed the room. ARIA nominated album ‘Bad Machines’ revisited. Two words. Oh joy. If I wasn’t having a proper sing-a-long shindig before, I sure as hell was now.
The first track off the highly praised current album ‘Love And Blood’ is titled ‘Safe’, and Mr. Nicholson wrote it for me. I mean for his girlfriend. He wrote this fierce and sexy song for his lucky, lucky, lucky girlfriend. I am not jealous. Maybe a little bit… (I said I was married. Not dead). Although, Mr. Nicholson’s sweet narrative of having written the song in such a personal context was, admittedly, kind of endearing. So I made my peace then and there.
Music, as any other medium of art, remains exceedingly subjective. To that end, I identify this composition in question as powerfully seductive and not least because it’s an ode to his ladylove (romanticism at its absolute peak), but a sincere promise to protect. Chivalry personified through irrefutably direct lyrical content, against the backdrop of a beat that can only be best described as an equivalent parallel to such. And as Mr. Nicholson confidently sang the following declaration toward his audience, “I’ll make you safe even if just to see you smile…” my smile was suddenly turned out on steroids, because from what I could gather, he was only singing to me. I could be wrong. But, not likely.
As I glanced on occasion around the room, I sensed a content familiarity and sincere loyalty emanating from the crowd of pleased and participative fans. Aussie pride all round. And I for one felt right at Home.
In terms of continued stimulation by way of uniqueness in sound and musicianship, we soon savoured the breathtaking rendition of ‘Broken Things’. Exquisitely tender, the softer sound felt like a warm blanket shielding the very fragility that clearly lay beneath the surface. On his own he owned the stage and commanded an entranced audience.
Mr. Nicholson’s music remains steadfastly expressive, evoking the observational, emotive and intelligent sentiment as a commonality. He is also renowned for switching those well-oiled creative gears of his pretty darn quickly too. And which tune could better demonstrate this more than the contagious, feel-good ‘I Don’t Dance’, off his new album, ‘Love And Blood’, to which we were next treated. An instantaneous rip-roaring vibe, somewhat reminiscent of the rockabilly genre of which we’re all well acquainted, commands this charged song. The jolt of electricity reflected the crowd’s energy perfectly, and Mr. Nicholson incited even a laugh or two throughout, given the tongue in cheek lyrical anecdotes.
Further, I really love the blatant irony with respect to the title itself, as the song honestly does make you want to dance, as was evidenced on the night when a few took to the dance floor in great haste. One of our brave dancers appeared somewhat legless, clearly having way too much fun on the night, but gave it a go anyway (its the Australian thing to do. Good on you son). Much to Mr. Nicholson’s amusement, who had created a pocket of light heartedness, with great effect, by having pledged the gentleman a clean twenty dollar bill to show us all his smooth moves, which he did indeed later honour at the merchandise table. Instantly responsive, the audience cheerfully applauded the whole routine. I swear on my very last piece of warm Blueberry Pie that we all wound up with even more bang for our buck right there. Respect to Mr. Nicholson, for entertaining beyond simply performing.
Now lets briefly revisit the notion of subjectiveness. I’ll tell you why the prominent pulse of this song’s arrangement is not the only reason why I consider it another damn sexy song. Tell me how else could one possibly feel when confronted with Mr. Nicolson just a few feet away belting out phrases like these, “…I’d make a pact with Satan just to make you my girl… but I don’t dance… I would be your soldier and lead your armies into war… but I don’t dance…” Come. On. Now! Like I said. Damn sexy. Hell if I had me a real life soldier I wouldn’t mind none if he didn’t dance…
Before managing to so much as even catch a breath following such a racy number, we’d switched those gears again just as rapidly as our master Mr. Nicholson had instructed, when the comforting call of an earlier ‘Alabama-esque’ based sound beckoned – with its sweet, succinct arrangement and rich, distinctive features. The crowd’s lively response spoke volumes, and the southern bluegrass stained notes to Mr. Nicholson’s vocals delivering the ARIA award winning ‘Rattlin Bones’ live, proved a sheer delight.
An unexpected pleasant surprise assumed the form of a young up and coming Australian talent joining the stage. An intensified blend of something both soulful and spiritual was born as Tori Forsyth’s strong sultry vocals were juxtaposed in symmetry against Mr. Nicholson’s. Sublime standout.
An idyllic evening made even more so given that Mr. Nicholson’s repertoire is far from limited. To have been so indulged was our good fortune; to have reveled in at least some seventeen stunning songs in celebration of an inspiring musical journey, was our absolute pleasure.
We look back upon memories of days gone by with much fondness. But today, maybe more than Once In A While, we are still able to treasure that which has indeed withstood the test of time. Years from now Mr. Nicholson will have undoubtedly amassed an even broader literary legacy, worthy of both commemoration and preservation.
Given the unparalleled commitment to his craft thus far, I am of the strong conviction that Mr. Nicholson too will endure the test of time, and be duly held in the same esteem as one Australian singer-songwriter who has long been elevated to legendary status (no guessing competition here, because it would be nothing short of a national tragedy if anybody actually got it wrong. And I’d be Whistling Cannonballs all the way to my early grave).
Be sure to attend a Shane Nicholson concert. And if you already have, go again and take a friend. Believe me, when Mr. Nicholson will also have deservedly attained a national treasure profile in the future, for the wealth of his quality contribution to the Australian musical landscape, you will personally thank me for the fond memory. You know what, I think I simply ought to respond ahead of time. You’re most welcome.
Mary Di Matteo