Saturday 19th April 2014 saw punters head to their local record shop for the annual Record Store Day. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon Dan Sultan playing a live acoustic set at Readings bookshop in Saint Kilda.
Covering songs fresh off his new album Blackbird, which was released April 4, Sultan generously gave his support to Record Store Day to provide a free set for fans. And what an intimate, special gig it was – there was probably no more than 50 people squashed into the tiny bookshop amongst shelves crowded with vinyls and childrens’ books. Armed with only a Fender Tele, a basic stage mic and a stack amp, Sultan filled every corner of the room with his presence and sound.
‘Can’t Blame Me’ was a stripped back, softened acoustic version of the grungy, Nashville-twanged studio version. Sultan’s voice has a knack for finding and holding onto colourful tones; tones that wrench on the listener’s heartstrings as he wails with unbridled emotion. While the studio version of ‘Can’t Blame Me’ is an upbeat, horn-ridden rock n roll track with giddying sparkly guitars and a crisply-produced sound, Sultan’s live interpretation contains so much more magic and soul that just doesn’t seem to transfer over in the studio recording. His growling, bluesy style of singing with heartfelt emotion, coupled with Hendrix-styled bass-leading guitar accompaniment was a mesmerising sight.
It’s amazing in this day and age to see a performer who still engages with the crowd; tries to make them at ease, even cracks a few bad Dad jokes. His quiet, humble stage presence was at odds with the intensity in sound and emotion that cloaked the room when he sang. Similarly, ‘Kimberley Calling’ was another standout. Sultan’s raw, untamed voices soars across the plains of the sparse accompaniment of an acoustic guitar. There’s nothing fake or sugarcoated about his lyrical content either. With his style firmly rooted in the blues, the songs off Blackbird are from a personal perspective on life, love and country.
When you hear Kimberley calling / then you know that it’s time to get moving / I’ve been away / Oh, I’ve been away
By far and large, the standout track from the gig (and perhaps the album) is ‘Gullible Few’. Quite fittingly, this is the closing track on Blackbird; it is without a doubt the most raw and hauntingly beautiful of the collection. Sultan sings of love lost and the comfort of naivety – his pure, yet unrestrained voice screeches across the guitar and at once, the listener is transported into Sultan’s narrative to act out the story.
June will see him embark on a mammoth national tour, reaching even the farthest regional locations in Australia. Get your tickets to the Blackbird tour here to experience some of that Dan Sultan magic.
Want the album version? You can buy Blackbird on iTunes here.