Whitlams cross to WASO again

The West Australian
by William Yeoman

Since their now-famous collaboration with the WA Symphony Orchestra in 2004, the Whitlams have released another album, Little Cloud. With the Perth Concert Hall offering a better listening space than the Kings Park outdoor venue of that earlier gig, three concerts were announced for a renewal of acquaintance.

The make-up of Friday night’s capacity audience reflected the broad appeal of the Whitlams, with teens and their grandparents happily rubbing shoulders. Not that the band’s frontman, pianist and singer Tim Freedman, is a purveyor of the easy listen.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when he’s in earnest. Even at his most demotic, there’s a subtly complex, elegiac quality to his lyrics that recalls the late Melbourne poet John Forbes. But he does write a good tune.

In the first half of the concert seemed a little flat, it still had its high points. Like the opening number, the award-winning No Aphrodisiac, or Keep the Light On, Fondness Makes the Heart Grow Absent and Her Floor Is My Ceiling. Especially good was Peter Sculthorpe’s arrangement of Ease of the Midnight Visit, featuring Margaret Blades on solo violin.

Opening with the beautiful Cries Too Hard, the second half was much better, with the hitherto fitful flashes of intensity more frequent. Breathing You In came across as a riff on one of John Donne’s aubades, while the dissonant strings and woodwinds in the Brett Dean/James Ledger arrangement of Buy Now Pay Later reached across to those trademark glissandi in the substantial string interlude of the Sculthorpe arrangement of Out the Back like gentle lighting.

When the rapper from Parramatta John Chmielewski, aka Torture, joined band and orchestra for the powerful anti-war song, The Road is Lost, many in the audience were visibly moved, some standing up and shouting, “More!” Other highlights included an arrangement by ex-WASO horn player Bill Stewart of You Sound Like Louis Burdett (giving the brass section a chance to take the spotlight away from the strings), a haunting account of The Curse Stops Here and, to send the audience home, the Whitlams’ boppy tribute to their namesake, Gough.

Throughout, both band and orchestra (the latter ably conducted by Ben Northey), produced a compelling sound, despite an over-amplification that tended to flatten tonal contrasts.

All in all, another successful crossover venture by the WASO, for which it must be commended.