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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #26: Powderfinger

Jack Bratt succinctly sums up the impact of the Brisbane legends by noting, “Powderfinger didn’t write songs, they wrote anthems.”

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Powderfinger

Ian Jennings*; Supplied

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #26: Powderfinger (by Jack Bratt)

I never remember a time that Powderfinger wasn’t part of what makes up my musical tapestry, they were always just there. I had Internationalist, I had Odyssey Number Five, I had Vulture Street. All those albums seemed to just be with me already, I never remember a time when Powderfinger weren’t there, that they weren’t a part of my life.

I do remember watching the Big Day Out 2001 on TV and hearing those first chords of “Passenger”, and seeing a sea of people swaying together, and I remember the absolute power they commanded over 60,000 people. Bernard started to sing, and 60,000 people sang the words right back at him. Powderfinger didn’t write songs, they wrote anthems.

Every song became a staple of Australian music; those songs became the soundtrack to our lives. We grew up with them. Moments big and small became tied to lyrics. While Bernard sang about love and loss, he also tackled issues few others were prepared to get into. Political unrest in our country, the rise of the One Nation party as sung about in “The Day You Come”, or the Stolen Generation and racial injustice. These were issues that weren’t really being addressed by other bands at the time. They were brave enough to use their platform to entertain and to educate young Australians.

“Powderfinger didn’t write songs, they wrote anthems.”

I remember attending the Powderfinger Live At The Wireless gig in 2004 and watching them glide onstage as musical heavyweights. Bernard Fanning began to howl on his harmonica; John Collins played a thunderous bass line; the guitars of Darren Middleton and Ian Haug weaved flawlessly between one another, while Jon Coghill attacked his drums with reckless abandon. 

The chorus hit, and a room full of strangers instantly became unified. Together we sang along to song after song. Songs that we lived and breathed, songs that were embedded in our culture as Australians. It felt like church. Rock‘n’roll church. To be able to create such an energy with instruments and vocals like that, is nothing short of Godlike. I’ve seen them play in stadiums, I’ve seen them play to 1,000 people, and the intensity and emotion is always the same. I’ve never walked away from a Powderfinger gig unsatisfied or uninspired.

Up until their very last record, they were still writing music that I thought was some of their greatest.

Tracks like “Burn Your Name” and “All of The Dreamers” delivered the same impact we had grown accustomed to from them. There was never a dip in quality from Powderfinger. 

I remember being in the audience for their final gig at the Riverstage in 2010, listening one last time to them play “These Days”, knowing it was all about to end and feeling a sense of grief yet huge appreciation. A feeling I shared with the other 10,000 people in attendance.

This was our band. A band we felt we owned a little bit of, because they were so much a part of us. They were from Brisbane, just like us. Homegrown heroes, who took the world by storm.

Every time I walk around Brisbane I feel the connection to Powderfinger. Every time I walk up the Brunswick Street Mall, I see their plaque on the ground and read it.

As I write this, I’m only a short walk away from Vulture Street, the title of the band’s fifth album, named after where their rehearsal space was. I drive down Vulture Street every day, and I always think of Powderfinger whenever I see the street sign, that’s where my mind goes to first. 

I hear their music all the time on the radio, or walking into a shop, and I’m so pleased when I hear it. It’s so familiar and comforting to know their music will go on forever.