Melbourne Zoo kicked off their annual Zoo Twilights concert series over the weekend with shows from two of Australia’s preeminent singer songwriters. James Reyne took us back in time with a set of Australian Crawl songs on Friday night, while a sold out crowd braved the elements for Bernard Fanning on Saturday.

Zoo Twilights James Reyne and Bernard Fanning_05

As I made my way into the zoo, a sea of picnic rugs and camp chairs already populated the lawn area beside the newly opened Lion Gorge, the restless groaning of the lions floated on the air and mixed with the casual chatter of groups of families and friends eager to listen to some great music in such a unique setting. Even for the smaller James Reyne crowd, good lawn space was hard to come by before support artist Jack Carty took the stage so I decided setting up early in the afternoon for Bernard Fanning was the only wise choice.

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Both night’s supports hit their mark with Jack Carty serenading the crowd with his laid back melodies on Friday and Little May seriously entertaining with their brilliant set of indie-folk on Saturday. I took a bit of a walk around and checked out some of the animal attractions, including a very active Reptile House, but I had a hard time moving too far away from the stage, the music holding my attention a bit more than I’d anticipated.

A brief video presentation preceded the main act for both nights, reminding everyone of the animal cause and informing us about the plight of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, and how the zoo is working to help.

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James Reyne kicked off with a ripping version of Aussie Crawl’s debut single, ‘Beautiful People’ which set the tone for the show. Every song was iconic rock and Reyne and his band played them perfectly. Highlights included a spectacular version of ‘Downhearted’ which saw Reyne start out on an acoustic guitar with minimal accompaniment from guitarist Phil Cebrano, keeping it stripped back for the first couple of verses, before the rest of the band came in and beefed it up. They then moved into ‘Reckless’, instantly wiping a certain recent cover from most peoples’ memories.

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Saturday night was a bit of a shift as a solo Bernard Fanning came out, as humble as they come, and introduced a new song ‘Unpicking a Puzzle.’ He said he wanted to play it “while you’re all listening,” before welcoming his band The Palaminos to the stage. The skies opened, despite a ‘promise’ from zoo staff that we’d all stay dry, and the ponchos and blankets came out almost in unison, while those who were unprepared had a tough decision, weighing up whether to stay or leave. A long way from his Powderfinger days, Fanning’s country infused pop ballads weren’t enough to keep everyone there but those that stayed got to hear all of Fanning’s solo hits.

Well, probably.

I hate to admit it, but I was one of the unprepared ones that didn’t stay. Sorry Bernard. But I will say, ‘Songbird’ was great.

Wes Fahey

FULL GALLERY HERE

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