> CHRIS WASSER
"We kinda know what we're doing…" Bernard Fanning doesn't sound too confident there. This is an "enormous," tour for the Brisbane native, formerly the lead singer of Australian alt-rock outfit, Powderfinger (bona-fide superstars back home, cult-ish heroes elsewhere). Alas, the band is no more.
Having relocated to Madrid, Fanning - a self-effacing player, with a cracking sense of humour - is gearing up for the recording of his third solo album. He's grown his hair and bought some check shirts. And, he just wants to sample some new songs in pubs.
With nine shows booked over 11 days, it's a good thing this guy has decided to keep things mellow. No drums, no merch and no crew. Fanning (45) reckons he's all over the place, him being a nice, modest chap and all. The truth is, this is how every 'retired' rock star should behave after the party winds down. Seat taken, acoustic guitar in hand, Fanning tries out the gorgeous Unpicking a Puzzle. The wondrous melody-making begins.
Fanning reckons at least seven Irish followers picked up his last solo effort, 2013's Departures. There are cheers all round when the Powderfinger tunes come out. "Why didn't you buy my f***ing record?" he jests.
The reinvention is going well; Fanning's got this whole arena frontman-turned-genial folk troubadour shtick down to a tee.
He knows he's a "misery guts"; a gifted songsmith with a penchant for the melancholic, but rarely does Fanning hit a bum note.
That marvellous, soothing vocal of his pulls us in - a couple of session players fill the gaps on mandolin and bass. It's a lovely sound. A warm and understated affair, Fanning is brilliant at ribbing the audience, too.
"If you're gonna clap, it'd really help if you could clap in time!" he declares. Ha! Another famous Aussie giving us a lesson in rhythm.
But Fanning's a stand-up guy. The splendid Wish You Well sounds like a hit - in some territories, it was. There's still time for the rest of the world to catch up. HHHHI