Oz rock showman James Reyne delivers spirited solo set

Australian rock icon James Reyne. Photo: Jason McCormack/file photo.

Review: In Case You Missed It Tour by James Reyne, Seymour Centre, Chippendale – Saturday, 13 March, 2021. By Sydney Sentinel contributor Danny Waterson.

“As the Manly ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay / Hear the Captain blow his whistle, so long she’s been away,” sang James Reyne in Australian Crawl’s 1983 hit ‘Reckless’. Not too far from Circular Quay, tonight’s eager audience at the University of Sydney’s Seymour Centre was ready for James’s first solo acoustic show in Sydney for many years.

As artists and audiences are discovering, there’s a real hunger to enjoy live music again in person as Covid-19 restrictions slowly ease. Tonight’s mixed crowd settled into the intimate Seymour Centre with keen anticipation to watch one of Australia’s most iconic singer-songwriters perform an almost entirely Australian songbook of hits.

During the 1980s, Reyne was lead singer of the popular aforementioned surf-rock band, and helped create iconic songs such as ‘Boys Light Up’ and ‘Oh No, Not You Again’. He has parlayed that experience into a successful and enduring solo career over the last several decades and has released fourteen solo albums to date.

James arrived on the sparse Seymour stage with guitarist Josh Owen and launched into a stripped back version of the 1991 hit ‘Slave’. Other well-known songs ‘Way Out West’ and ‘Hammerhead’ quickly followed. “Here’s a song about a shark,” Reyne quipped, introducing the latter. (Of course, music folklore has it that the song is about drug use.) These acoustic shows allow James’s unique, distinguished vocal delivery and the songs’ razor-sharp observational lyrics to shine.

Sprinkled between each song, James takes the opportunity to chat to the attentive and appreciative audience. His good humour and sarcastic wit is in good form tonight, with plenty of one-liners and jokes. “Have I told you this one?” he says before re-telling another classic joke – even showing the laughing audience his hand-written list of jokes, should the songs fall flat. That was never going to happen; the audience loved every classic Australian tune.

Oz rock icon James Reyne (left) and Josh Owen on stage at Sydney’s Seymour Centre, Saturday, 13 March, 2021. Photo: Danny Waterson.

While Reyne tours for the most part with his long-time full band, these intimate acoustic shows give him the opportunity to delve into his lesser-known catalogue of album cuts. ‘What A Pain In The Arse It Is (To Run Into You Again)’ from the 2015 EP release The Magnificent Few intrigued many with its title, but soon had the audience singing the chorus and clapping along. Another highlight was the beautiful ballad ‘Water Water’, a fan favourite from 1991’s Electric Digger Dandy album.

The opportunity to watch two very talented musicians at their best is a rare treat, and at times the capacity room sat wrapped in silence watching Reyne and Owen use their guitars and voices to tell tales. The musicianship was top notch, and the sounds filled the venue in a wholly satisfying way.

As the show went on, the audience began to relax, becoming louder and singing more enthusiastically. Reyne kept the iconic Australian music soundtrack going with ‘Errol’, ‘Beautiful People’ and ‘Motor’s Too Fast’, a massive radio hit from 1988. An artist reliably comfortable doing what he loves to do.

Although this was generally a crowd-pleasing greatest hits show, Reyne continues to record and release new material every few years. His last album Toon Town Lullaby was released in June 2020, and is a collection of masterful songwriting and catchy soft-rock tunes. Produced by Dorian West (Wildland, Tina Arena, Dami Im, et al.) it’s some of his best studio work to date. Sadly, none of the new songs were added to the set tonight.

A clearly humbled Reyne told the Sydney crowd how great it was to be back in the Harbour City performing to audiences after a challenging year for everyone. The encore consisted of familiar favourites such as Australian Crawl hits ‘Reckless’ and ‘Downhearted’, together with Reyne’s first solo release, ‘Fall Of Rome’ from 1987.

Finishing the set with Australian Crawl’s biggest hit ‘Boys Light Up’, Reyne and Owen delivered an unexpected twist – a mash-up of ‘Boys Light Up’ with Inner Circle’s song ‘Bad Boys’ – which delighted the clearly appreciative crowd.

James Reyne is one of Australia’s best and most idiosyncratic singers, and the audience headed home having witnessed the showman at his best.

Reyne and his band are touring throughout 2021, and are back in Sydney for shows in June and November.

James Reyne (left) with the author. Photo: Danny Waterson.

Visit www.jamesreyne.com.au for more information, including updates on future concert tours and releases.