You get the feeling that Tommy Emmanuel doesn’t need many roadies.
After all, it’s hard to imagine anyone breaking into much of a sweat unloading his gear – his guitar, stand and microphone – could probably fit in the back of a modest family car.
Yet for the best part of 40 years, this humble setup has accompanied Emmanuel on stages from London to Nashville – and he was hardly going to make any drastic changes for his hometown crowd.
“It’s good to be home” he announced to the crowd, alone on stage and surveying the revamped Hamer Hall “…and boy does this place sound good.”
The penultimate show of his ‘Live and Acoustic’ tour began rather punctually, with Emmanuel appearing briefly to introduce his supporting act, the excellent combo of Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.
In their oversized suits and thick glasses, the two cheeky New Yorkers looked and acted like the world’s most technical musical comedy act, putting on a display of guitar virtousity that was both humble and humourous.
Given Vignola’s status as somewhat of a legend in the guitar community, it was a shame that there were quite a few empty seats in the auditorium, as those that wandered in late missed a short set that was full of highlights, including a ‘guitar ballet’ rendition of Swan Lake that had the crowd in stitches.
After a short interval, Emmanuel returned, this time sporting a guitar, a bright pastel shirt and looking, as he always does, entirely comfortable on stage. With the applause still ringing, the much-loved guitarist immediately launched into a medley of some of his best known creations, including the crowd favourite “Classical Gas”.
Emmanuel also had an early surprise in store for those only familiar with his fast fingers. During more than one of his bluesy jams, he chimed in with some soulful vocals that fit in perfectly with the chugging, Delta blues-inspired rhythms coming from his guitar.
It was only toward the middle of the show that Emmanuel began to diverge from his one-man-band theatrics, taking his foot off the pedal at plucking his way through a few of his newer projects – including two pieces from his upcoming collaboration with Martin Taylor.
The slower paced guitar work brought the best out of Hamer Hall’s warm acoustics, and his use of intertwining bass lines and delicate melodies were a refreshing break from the twangy sound that characterised his early numbers.
Stopping frequently to address the crowd, Emmanuel was sensitive, energetic and full of anecdotes about a life spent playing with some of the world’s greatest musicians.
He even shared a few playing tips, which seemed to be greatly appreciated by the raft of long haired guitar nuts amongst the crowd. There were also no shortage of ‘dad jokes’, which brought muffled laughs and reminded Melbourne that despite all that globe-trotting, Emmanuel is certainly Australian at heart.
Other highlights included a medley of Beatles covers, as well as a heartfelt version of Chet Atkins’ “Kentucky Dream” – which he worked in with his own creation “The Cowboy’s Dream” to highlight the evolution of his own compositions.
In the end though, it was a show that begged the question, how much solo acoustic guitar is enough? In this case, probably an hour. But Emmanuel was enjoying himself far too much, and brought Vignola back on stage for a Polka inspired duet that brought the show up to nearly three hours long.
A final encore brought even more guests on stage, none of which were immediately familiar to most of the crowd – but apparently toured with Emmanuel in “the early days”.
Instead of another guitar odyssey, this strange finale took the form of a synthesizer-led vocal performance that was far removed from the previous three hours of interpretive guitar percussion and Jimi Hendrix covers.
The roadies would have no doubt been disappointed, as the inclusion of a synth now meant that they had four items to remove from the stage. But the rest of the crowd seemed quite content with this generous performance by Melbourne’s very own guitar legend.
– Adam Slater