Robert Forster @ Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (18/09/2009)

Robert Forster sits alone with his guitar on a platform. Surrounding him on all sides is the calm, deep-blue water that is the centre-point of the Queensland Gallery of Art. A good few hundred people at this sold out show stand on water’s edge to left, right and front. The rough vanilla wall several metres behind him is bathed in a light blue that stretches several stories high, forming a boundary to the deep cavern that is the centre of the building. Then Forster introduces himself humbly, and starts playing. It is as though the songs linger for a moment, and then slowly drift up into the enormous empty space – a moment fleeting, of something real, something evocative, and ultimately intangible.

Forster plays a handful of songs alone, to the obviously enraptured crowd, before being joined onstage by two additional musicians. Forster’s languid playing, his voice and lyrics have an esoteric quality that makes you feel either appreciative to be a witness here, or terribly outclassed and confused as to why he’s actually relevant. The songs are enhanced both musically and thematically by the trio’s collective sound and this gives Forster some breathing space, allowing the history and pensiveness to feel momentarily ephemeral, rather than claustrophobic and crushing. Forster appears to be enjoying himself and seems genuinely appreciative of the response he’s getting from the crowd. As much as I’d have loved him to run through a solo set of Liberty Belle, the show he’s playing tonight only enhances his reputation as one of Australia’s finest musical ambassadors.

Earlier in the night I pass Forster. He’s wearing a full suit, tall and stiff upright, his face weathered with a wistful yet astute expression. I want to stop him and express my admiration for his work in both the Go-Betweens and his solo career. But I don’t. I let this desire slip up and away, just as the music does later in the night.