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Robert Forster Holds a Hometown Crowd in the Palm of His Hand

Forster promised us something special the minute he walked on stage. Like any good magician, he delivered it. 

Robert Forster

Stephen Booth

After a recent tour that took in parts of Europe and the UK, Robert Forster returned home – to Brisbane – in support of his current album, The Candle and the Flame

Playing a refurbished Princess Theatre, Forster told the audience at the outset that they’d be in for something special: with an alternate setlist and guests. 

Forster carries his autobiography in his setlist. The Go-Betweens’ “Born to a Family” – a case in point – was the night’s perfect opener. 

A rock ‘n’ roll magician, Forster has mastered holding a full house in the palm of his hand armed with just a single acoustic guitar. Alone on the large stage, the songwriter opened with a Brisbane trilogy, of sorts, that included “Spring Rain” and the self-explanatory “Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)”. 

There’s more of the aforementioned autobiographical content as he name drops characters from his early band days in “Darlinghurst Nights”, followed by another highlight from The Go-Betweens songbook,  “Dive for Your Memory”. 

Scott Bromley and Luke McDonald are invited onstage to join Forster on a jewel from his later catalogue, “Love to Burn”. The pair stick around for a couple more tunes, before leaving Forster alone to beguile us with a wry anecdote about the writing of “The Roads”; whereas Kraftwerk wrote about the “‘Autobahn”, Forster writes about the sixty odd kilometres of barns, farms and winding roads that occur before you get to it. 

Karin Baumler’s ovarian cancer has been well-documented and tonight it’s a joy to see her join her husband on stage alongside former Go-Between Adele Pickvance for “It’s Only Poison” and “I Don’t Do Drugs I Do Time”, before Karin is left alone with Robert to perform on the song she inspired, “She’s A Fighter”. 

There’s a rawness to that song – and a core truth – that Forster can conjure in his writing – in these later years, he can do it almost at will. As if to spite the brilliance of The Go-Betweens, he has seemingly ‘gotten better’. He’s always written fine songs, but his guitar playing skills have jumped markedly and he now commands a stage in a statesman-like manner reminiscent of Guy Clark. 

Still, hearing Forster do a bare-bones reading of “Clouds” reminds you of how bloody good The Go-Betweens were. With “Here Comes a City” I’m also reminded that much of what brings me back to Forster’s writing is the humour. As he sings on that particular, song, “Why do people that read Dostoevsky/look like Dostoevsky?”

The encore includes ”Rock and Roll Friend” and closes with a rousing ensemble take on “Surfing Magazines”. Robert Forster promised us something special the minute he walked on stage. Like any good magician, he delivered it.