Go Between Opening: Here Comes A City
ANDREW MCMILLEN* reports on the historic opening of the Go Between Bridge on June 25, which saw artists including Robert Forster, Yves Klein Blue and The John Steel Singers pay tribute to The Go-Betweens? legacy to Brisbane. Photos by *ELLENI TOUMPAS.
There’s both beauty and irony in the fact that Brisbane residents voted to name their newest bridge after a pop band that found wider appreciation outside Australia, rather than within this city’s streets. That it’s a toll bridge, not a free crossing, is a moot point by now. Though this particular structure – which links South Brisbane to the Inner City Bypass and Riverside Expressway – won’t be open for business for a couple more weeks, today’s concert is a novel opportunity to experience the new construction alongside a soundtrack that links The Go-Betweens? past to its present.
Surprisingly for 4pm on a Friday afternoon, a significant early crowd has gathered to enter via gates on the western side. It soon becomes apparent that the majority in attendance are teens, presumably wooed in by the triple j-friendly fare on offer today. The John Steel Singers are in full flight atop a stage that stretches across four lanes. Their colourful music provides stark contrast to the threatening clouds overhead, and there’s a strong Forster connection too (he produced their forthcoming debut album Tangalooma*). This afternoon they repay the compliment by providing a buoyant take on his ?Too Much Of One Thing? from the 2003 Go-Betweens album *Bright Yellow, Bright Orange.
?If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Brisbane,? jokes Bob Evans, ?it’s that they love a good bridge. Not like in Perth, where I’m from, where there’s only one bridge. But now that you’ve got one named after The Go-Betweens, Andrew Stockdale’s gonna want one.? Anything Evans says is met with excited teenage squeals. Wielding an acoustic guitar and swigging from a bottle of red, Evans – Jebadiah’s Kevin Mitchell in a past life – is every bit the charming troubadour, playing songs from his three albums including ?Pasha Bulker?, ?Nowhere Without You? and ?Don’t You Think It’s Time?. Criminally, though, there’s no Go-Betweens cover. What gives? He did ?Streets Of Your Town? on the 2007 tribute album, [Write Your Adventures Down](/releases/5673), so it’s certainly a puzzling omission.
Yves Klein Blue make no such mistake. They tear through an invigorating read of ?Head Full Of Steam? from the 1986 album Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. Singer Michael Tomlinson has even borrowed Forster’s guitar for their set; in a touching gesture, the frontman redirects the young crowd’s adulation at song’s end (?Don’t thank us, thank Robert and Grant?). For the young audience in attendance, Yves Klein Blue are evidently an exciting prospect: they’ve got the swagger, the confidence and the songs to back it up. From the VIP area overlooking proceedings, I glance sideways at Forster standing mouth agape during the ?Head Full Of Steam? cover. I wonder whether in Michael Tomlinson he sees a bit of himself.
This is Josh Pyke?s first show in five months, and his ?first and only? bridge opening. Like Evans, he’s on stage with just guitar and voice, and the teen squeals amp up considerably upon his entrance. There is nothing cool about Josh Pyke, but his songwriting skills have never been in doubt. To close, he invites Evans on stage to play a song they wrote together for Basement Birds, their side project. In the context of this event, it’s another strange choice, especially since he also covered a song, ?Bachelor Kisses?, on Write Your Adventures Down.
Robert Forster is all class. He takes the stage with band in tow and strums the opening chords to ?Streets Of Your Town? as if it’s the most natural choice to open a bridge dedicated to your band. And it is, of course. It’s a song written by dearly departed Go-Betweens co-founder Grant McLennan, and by the time Forster applies his own take on his old friend’s guitar solo in the middle-eight, there’s a tear in my eye. It’s a stunning, perfect performance of a song that Forster likely hasn’t played live since McLennan’s passing, yet he and the band handle it with poise and grace. Forster introduces ?Head Full Of Steam?, stating that he hopes they do it as well as Yves Klein Blue (they do it better). He is flanked by long-time collaborators Adele Pickvance (bass) and Glenn Thompson (guitar), while Matt Peile of Flamingo Crash is behind the kit. Playing up to the occasion, the band don’t drop a note or miss a cue. ?Clouds?, from 16 Lovers Lane is a joy, while ?German Farmhouse? is delivered with a rare sense of urgency.
Forster’s trademark humour shines through, as he deadpans, ?This is a beautiful-looking bridge. People are going to come from all over the world to see this. They’ll see it, then they’ll go to the Gold Coast.? They air ?Darlinghurst Nights?, a thrilling take on ?Spring Rain?, and ?121? from Forster’s 1993 solo album Calling From A Country Phone. (Admittedly, the latter song flies over the head of most in attendance, and is perhaps the only misstep across their 40 minutes.) In ?Surfing Magazines?, he has the band linger on an extended outro as he poses and gestures to each beat. Much as some malign the man for having confidence in his own abilities – and the gall to [admit it](/icons/3966843) – Forster owns this moment. The decision to end with ?Here Comes A City? – featuring Ian Haug from Powderfinger on lead guitar – underlines his sense of humour: the implication being, of course, that Brisbane hasn’t truly arrived until the opening of The Go Between Bridge. Brilliant.
Since this concert was announced, I’d been a little irked that Forster wasn’t headlining his own bridge opening. On the night, however, I realise the decision to have Angus & Julia Stone play last means the teens in attendance have no choice but to pay attention to Forster if they wish to save their spot near the front. And they seem to dig it – even if their response doesn’t quite come close to the high-pitched squeals emitted every time a Stone looks their way or shyly thanks them for the applause. If even one kid in attendance goes home and downloads some Go-Betweens tonight, then the bridge’s purpose is served.
The evening’s final song is a bolt from the blue. It’s ?You Won’t Find It Again?, a bonus track from the 2004 reissue of 16 Lovers Lane. Forster is reintroduced to the stage brandishing a guitar, and takes a few bars to match Angus Stone’s rhythm. Its lyrics speak of a relationship’s finality (?Don’t you know baby, you won’t find it again/Don’t you know honey, it’s over, it’s the end?). Like all of the best Go-Betweens material, it’s simple, catchy and universally understandable. Bob Evans, Adele Pickvance and more of tonight’s performers file onto the stage for one last sing-along, while a strangely reticent Forster keeps toward the back of stage.
It’s a lovely, understated conclusion to a remarkable night, and a fitting tribute to the Go-Between who couldn’t be here with us. At song’s end, fireworks are launched from a boat anchored mid-river. Their explosions ring out for only a minute or two – it’s just a bridge opening, after all – before we walk back across the length of Brisbane’s newest river crossing. Here comes a city.