Straight from the sea

Eskimo Joe w/ Sydney Symphony Orchestra @ Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Sydney NSW Australia 07/03/2018 written by Brendan Lewis.


Can you hear those voices, that echo. It’s the ghosts of the past calling to us from the sea, a foreign land beneath the pressure of 21 years of timeless classics. Tonight, those ghosts, Eskimo Joe, come to life and bring with them their ship of hits from their tidal-wave of a career. To help bring these hits to the surface, is the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, who will carry this monumental ship like a harmonious wave.

Now hold your breath, and let’s take a dive into the sea…

As we start our decent down into the musical waters, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra let us test the waters with a soft symphonic intro, that slowly builds up, moving closer to the deep end, then the symphony reaches it’s depths and Eskimo Joe walk out onto the stage, we take a deep breath in, and get ready to dive into the first song. SPLASH! Just like your smart-ass mate splashing you in the face just when you take a deep breath in and are about to submerge into the water, the band break the expected flow into the music with a “Hey everyone, welcome!” setting a rather unexpected casual flow to the tide.

The first musical wave this evening is beloved Eskimo Joe classic ‘New York’. This rendition however, features only Kav’s iconic voice and the orchestra (as far as I can tell at least or perhaps the rest of the bands’ sound is lost in the orchestra’s current), which as perfect as the symphony is with the bands’ music, it really draws focus to the orchestra and leaves Eskimo Joe behind in the shallows. That aside, this rendition sends shivers through me at how beautiful it is, and how perfectly the orchestral sounds are in the song. This being a song I’ve grown up with, my ears detect that Kav seems to be not be sustaining some of the notes in the chorus as it is in the recording, but that is easily forgiven with the perfectly clear sound, ringing throughout the hall in waves of beauty, with complimenting yet subtle lighting reflected off it, yet this song isn’t the big dramatic plunge into the set I’d normally expect, but with the casual humble entrance from the band, it may be a good indication of the rest of the set to come.


The band keep the casual flow going with, “hello, we are Eskimo Joe… just in case you were wondering and for those who just arrived late” …“we have a very special guest here tonight, it’s the first time we’ve ever had a guide dog in the audience”, which the super-spunky blind guy with said dog calls out “his name’s Rusty!” which Kav says hello to Rusty before diving into the next monsoon of songs ‘Older Than You’, ‘Planet Earth’, ‘Liar’ and fan favourite ‘Sarah’.

For all these songs the band move around the stage calmly yet positively, like swimming in a sea of music around them, drawing the audiences attention like cats watching fish swim around in the fish-tank. Hearing these classics by Eskimo Joe, some which the band don’t normally perform live, renditioned with a full orchestra is rather indulgent for Eskimo Joe fans, and not something likely to be repeated at other Eskimo Joe performances. 

After the symphonic-dominated rendition of ‘Older Than You’ which features dual vocals from Kav and bassist Stu, swirling around each other in perfect symmetry like synchronised swimmers, the band have a bit of fun and splash the audience with humour and casual paddles of early songwriting days. “Kav: When you’re writing music, it usually starts with your favourite three chords C, G and F, then wait until something slips through the cracks. Stu: “C-sharp” bring forth a down-pour of laughter throughout the hall. The vibe now changes to a nostalgic feeling in ‘Planet Earth’, with Kav’s wide-range vocals really shining through the symphonic waters and catch my attention as they glisten. The tide now changes to a stripped-back softer feeling with raw passionate vocals, with the band merely floating in the strong current of orchestral sounds. As beautiful and special as it is hearing songs like this renditioned with an orchestra, the main focus is locked on the orchestra, leaving the band caught up in it’s riptide, which for me personally, I think the orchestra should simply be complimenting the bands music and help carry it to greater unique depths, rather than the band simply complimenting and assisting the orchestra. Like seriously, the fish doesn’t chase the shark. Finally, the orchestra starts ‘Sarah’ in exquisite complimenting beauty, leading into the full-band sound in perfect authenticity to the song. This song with the symphony perfectly complimenting the band like the fin helping the fish glide through the water more swiftly, yet not exceeding the band, and Kav’s powerful crying-out vocals sends nostalgic tingles through me! Ah good, now the shark’s chasing the fish once again!


For the rest of this deep-sea voyage, we re-discover long-lost musical treasures like ‘From The Sea’, ‘Black Fingernails Red Wine’, ‘Breaking Up’ and finally we reach the bottom of the sea with ‘When We Were Kids’. On the way down to Marianas Trench (the actual trench at the seas’ deepest point, not the Canadian pop/rock band) we also encounter some rare musical creatures that’ve come out of hiding specially for this show like ‘Life Is Better With You’, ‘Running Out Of Needs’ and ‘Sky’s On Fire’. The band share more humour and casual anecdotes of the songwriting and song meanings, and how the band really focus on the first and last song on each album, and how they think they’re important to open and close an album on, plus Kav’s story of writing ‘Foreign Land’ while he was in New York on the red carpet at some event, and just found out that Heath Ledger had died, and how Kav wrote ‘London Bombs’ after the band heard about a bombing in London while they were in Brisbane so they all rushed over to the cities aid. For all the songs the flow is changed from captivating up-beat complimenting orchestral renditions with the band bobbing on the surface of, to stripped-back slow ballads with just Kav’s passionate voice and the orchestra (as far as I’m aware of), which are yes, beautiful especially with how the strings and Kav’s vocal melodies shine brilliantly in pure same-note synchronisation, giving different textures and flows to this special intimate-feeling show. Although, in some of the more stripped back orchestral songs, one would be forgiven for drifting off in the current as the focus is very much on the orchestra and leaves Stu and Joel off the radar a little too much I think. Before reeling in the last big musical fish ‘When We Were Kids’ and after the band thank us and the orchestra once more ( for the hundredth time), the band confess there won’t be an encore, as these songs took a while to put together… or something like that, it’s hard to hear/remember under water.

After plundering the musical sea tonight, I’ve now returned to the surface and….. This deep-sea adventure was a truly special unique glimpse of Australian classics from the past twenty-one years, renditioned beautifully with an orchestra. The bands’ on stage charisma and casualness/ openness to their audience made everyone I’m sure, feel connected on an intimate level to the band and their music, which is special in itself. Although as extraordinary as the music was, the orchestra was a little too focus-drawing and prominent at times for my liking, but all in all still a treat!