If Paul Kelly is Australia’s Dylan, then Don Walker is our Springsteen.
Like the ‘Boss’, Walker writes of characters that are either shunned or disenfranchised with larger society. He has few peers that illuminate the darker underbelly of the Australian psyche better than he, whether he be performing with Cold Chisel, Tex, Don and Charlie or solo. Gamblers, convicts, prostitutes, loners – none are excluded and none are described with greater authenticity.
It is a vastly different crowd who shows up to a solo Don Walker show compared to those who stagger along to a Chisel gig. This crowd listens intently to Walker’s narratives and reacts accordingly. You won’t find any half cut flannelette-wearing brickies screaming for ‘Flame Trees’ or ‘Khe Sanh’.
On stage, Walker cuts a lean and surprisingly tall figure. Decked out in a suit and red shirt, he only moves occasionally. When he does it is either a slow tap of a heel or an appreciative nod to one of the members of his backing band, the Suave Fucks.
The term ‘backing band’ does not do the (ahem) Fucks justice. They consist of some of the more renowned players in the industry, including Chisel regular Dave Blight on the harmonica and Garrett Costigan on the pedal steel. As Jeff Lang once put it, hearing Costigan play live is akin to listening to a “bird from Heaven”. Lang wasn’t wrong.
Walker unleashes a number a new songs in the set, including ‘Feelin’ Lucky’ and ‘Night Fishing’. They are vintage Walker, in particular the latter which recalls Don’s childhood memories of fishing with his rum-swilling father. He mixes these with the likes of ‘Postcard From Elvis’, ‘Johnny’s Gone’, ‘Get Along’ (a track he penned for Slim Dusty) as well as cuts off Chisel’s No Plans such as ‘Everybody’ and ‘HQ454 Monroe’.
Walker’s vocals, though not near the caliber of his songwriting, are strong and clear. There is a sense of story-telling and narrative when he sings, both of which are occasionally lost when Jim Barnes applies his razor-blade gurgling to Don’s lyrics.
A raucous applause ensues once Walker and the Fucks depart the stage. They return with ‘My Girl’ for the encore, a song encompassing lines such as; “my girl drinks whiskey every morning in bed / makes love like she’s wakin’ the dead”. Eventually the patrons are satisfied and Walker and Co disperse permanently for the night.
You get the feeling Walker enjoys a solo show far more than say, a Chisel gig. A venue like the Northcote Social Club is perfect for him. With its sticky floors and peeling walls – not to mention the smell of ammonia emanating form the upstairs depository – it is not unlike a setting from one of his songs.
- Paul Bonadio