Reviewed on Thursday February 23 (image by Ashley Mar)
“I’m the happiest man in the fucking world!” is how Tim Rogers puts it, and if he has any competition for the title tonight, they’re bound to be in this room. The warm glow of fan geekery radiates from pretty much every person here tonight, whether onstage or in the packed crowd. We’re here as part of the Sydney Festival to celebrate Big Star’s Third album, the band’s beloved but troubled final original record, issued with so many different track listings over the years that we’re unsure how it’s going to play out.
Alongside the brass section, symphonic percussionist, and a six-piece string section with its own conductor, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies) opens with a stark version of ‘Nature Boy’, before being joined out front by Kim Salmon for an uproarious blast of ‘Kizza Me’. From here the roster of guest singers blows on and offstage quickly – highlights including Rogers on a perfectly chosen ‘O, Dana’, Cat Power’s vulnerable vocals used to exceptional effect in ‘Femme Fatale’, Dave Faulkner accompanied by a percussive basketball on ‘Downs’, and Salmon’s aching take on ‘Holocaust’ creating a reverential silence across the room.
Truthfully though, it’s the members of the house band who provide some of the most joyous moments all night, perhaps not a surprise when they include Chris Stamey (The dB’s); Mike Mills (R.E.M.) bursting out of the gates on ‘You Can’t Have Me’; and the only surviving member of the original Big Star, still-youthful drummer Jody Stephens, whose personal, candid insight into the writing, recording and troubles of the album thrills fans, as do his solo songs ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Way Out West’.
The only missteps in the show are minor, like Power going missing during a duet with Salmon and Kurt Vile seeming a little overwhelmed, but for a show with such a collection of names, there’s an unusual sense of genuine community and lack of spotlight-hogging. The entire second half of the show is a bonus treat, with songs from throughout Big Star’s career culminating in a still-recovering Edwyn Collins taking over the early Alex Chilton hit ‘The Letter’. Just being there in that company would probably be enough for most of tonight’s crowd, but thankfully the truly outstanding performances elevate it to an all-time gig that people will be boasting about for years.