The Go-Betweens
Jazz Cafe, London, May 1999

Robert comes down the staircase in a yellow suit, an arm raised in regal greeting. He's made up like a vampire, or a gentleman actor of the old school. Grant follows, a mechanic whose bulging biceps are emphasised by a tight blue t-shirt. An odd pair, but no odder than Lennon and McCartney, or fish and chips for that matter. Or Morecambe and Wise - Grant playing the straight man, Robert taking the pratfalls. All the while showing that they know each other as well as one person may know another, belying those apparent differences with their musical intimacy, and playing acoustic versions of what it would be no overstatement to say are some of the best pop songs ever written.

They bury the myth that since the Go-Betweens' demise neither has matched their pooled efforts. While it's true that each acted as the other's quality control in the Go-Betweens, of the eight or nine songs they play written since 1990, none were less crafted or rich in that strikingly Australian imagery than those which took the Go-Betweens to heights well above their contemporaries. Late in the show, with the lights down low, Robert stuns everyone with a stretched and intense version of 'Danger In The Past'. He can be effete, arch, melodramatic, authoritative, pitying, serious, a joker, inflecting his performance with all of these attitudes. Grant sings in that yearning, melodious way, and it breaks your heart every time. There have been some tremors in these lives. You have to bless the love affairs, momentous and doomed, that have left the world with 'Bachelor Kisses', 'Love Is A Sign', 'People Say', and 'Bye Bye Pride'.

If it seems that Robert upstages his partner, Grant doesn't mind, and his part in this story that will one day be a legend is not diminished. They both have great presence, but Robert's is easier to convey. Grant lets his songs do the talking, and how to put across their similar range and effect, their additional tenderness? Ultimately only by urging you to seek out the odd couple's music. And if you are already a convert, I daresay you were there yourself, and you needn't have read this 400 word celebration of the magic and majesty of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan.

© Dan Williams 1999.