With his statue sitting proudly outside Rod Laver Arena, you couldn’t think of a more fitting place to celebrate the late, great Michael Gudinski and all things to do with his baby, the Mushroom Group.
The legendary promoter and entrepreneur started his record label Mushroom Records 50 years ago, and the anniversary has been celebrated all year with merchandise, a covers compilation, and the release of his life story on film in Ego: The Michael Guidnski Story.
But tonight’s Mushroom 50 Live concert is the big finale we’ve all been looking forward to, part of the ALWAYS LIVE program, an initiative brought to life in the past two years following his untimely death.
Tonight, we’ve been promised 50 songs for 50 years, all from Mushroom’s extensive catalogue, performed by more than 20 of its biggest artists, past and present. An occasion like this deserves a big opener – and who else to do so but Jimmy Barnes. He doesn’t need to do a cover – instead, he just goes peak ‘Straya and pumps out “No Second Prize” with gusto before following up with the iconic “Working Class Man”.
If there’s anything that’s more ingrained in Mushroom’s DNA, it’s Skyhooks, the band that started it all for Gudinski and the company. Vika & Linda Bull do a sassy cover of the band’s “Living in the 70s”, and you think the rest of tonight’s event could have a chronological theme.
That’s quickly scrapped when Missy Higgins jumps to 1986 for her cover of The Triffids’ “Wide Open Road”, followed by her breakout hit “Scar”. For the rest of the night we’re treated to 1-2 songs from the all-star lineup – either their celebratory cover of a song from the Mushroom catalogue, or one of their own big hits.
At the rockier end of the spectrum, The Temper Trap bring blissed vibes into the arena with their take on The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”, before instigating euphoria with “Sweet Disposition”. Birds of Tokyo could have picked better cuts from their early days, but still prove popular with two more recent hits, “Lanterns” (accompanied by a sea of phone lights) and “Good Lord”.
There’s room tonight for hip hop too, as Bliss n Eso get everyone, including my heavy metal-loving mate next to me, waving their hands during “The Sea Is Rising”. The Teskey Brothers bring plenty of soul with their hit “So Caught Up”, and Leonardo’s Bride remind us just how beautiful “Even When I’m Sleeping” is with a stripped-back rendition on the smaller stage perched in the stands at the back end of the arena.
While there were hardly any bad performances, it was the Indigenous artists, or those with an Indigenous link which proved to be the biggest standouts. Christine Anu and her daughter’s rendition of “My Island Home” on the smaller stage was the perfect patriotic moment, before they fittingly threw to Goanna on the main stage with the anthemic “Solid Rock”.
After a rousing intro from Briggs, you would have been lucky to find anyone not bouncing along to Yothu Yindi, who owned their slot with “Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)” and the iconic “Treaty”. And Dan Sultan brought all the feels and showed his mighty talent as he covered Archie Roach’s “Took the Children Away” from a mini-grand piano.
Mushroom50 closed with Mark Seymour’s solo take on his band’s classic “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, with Ed Sheeran’s voice booming down the line for one verse – a weird arrangement which only those watching on TV at home would have been able to fully enjoy. The rest of Hunters and Collectors then joined him for “Do You See What I See”, “Holy Grail”, and a big burst of confetti, before Lee Simon boomed over the PA, thanking us for attending and wishing us a safe trip home.
It was somewhat of an abrupt ending, and perhaps the only thing this wonderfully programmed celebration could have done better. Would it have been too much to get a few more of the acts back together on stage for a big singalong at the end?
That aside, Mushroom50 proved to be a brilliant and fitting spectacle, one that honoured the past and also pointed to the future with the inclusion of a new artist showcase led by more recent singings such as Logan, WILSN, Merci Mercy, and Gordi. It served as a perfect four-and-a-half hour journey through Australian music history, and anyone inside Rod Laver Arena or watching on television at home would have been enriched by it.