Sitting here quietly waiting in the QPAC Concert Hall for the performance to begin was quite the contrast to jumping and bumping shoulders in a mosh pit the last time I saw Eskimo Joe perform. We were in for a unique experience.
It was 21 years ago that Kav Temperley, Stu Macleod and Joel Quartermain formed Eskimo Joe as much-loved indie rock kids in Fremantle and to mark this milestone they wanted to explore new horizons and embark upon new challenges. What better way to do that than by teaming up with chamber orchestras around the country for a string of one-off performances certain to treat your eardrums to an Eskimo Joe sound like no other?
Tonight, as part of the Brisbane Festival, their backdrop was the Queensland Chamber Orchestra Camerata or ‘The Sexy Orchestra’ as Temperley called them. Instead of the collective scream to beckon the band, there was complete silence and escalating anticipation as we waited. Conductor Vanessa Scammell appeared and quickly took her place at the rostrum then Camerata set the tone opening with ‘Comfort You’ arranged by R. E. Smith. Eskimo Joe came to the stage and positioned in front of the orchestra then ‘New York’ began.
The boys bantered and joked between songs and it was clear they were still great mates and genuinely loved performing together. Thankful we had come to see them instead of Cher there were references to “turning back time” and Temperley joked about “being old” and how the typical rock star black jeans were now “physically restraining”. They seemed chuffed this experiment had worked and grateful to be in the experience. Macleod said it was like hearing the score from a movie and at any minute was “expecting a bird to come out on your shoulder”. He was bang on.
Clearly used to a more raucous crowd, Temperly joked that “playing with an orchestra was a step up in their parents’ eyes” and to offset the seriousness they liked to make the orchestra do something “unserious”. When he asked the harp player to make a sound to “scare small children” the uproar of roof-raising laughter would have loosened even the stiffest of collars.
The mere mention of the album ‘Black Fingernails Red Wine’ brought the subdued and varied crowd to life and the absolute highlights of the night were ‘Childhood Behaviour’, ‘Running Out of Needs’ (which had only been played once live before) ‘Breaking Up’, ‘From the Sea’ and of course ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’. ‘Love is a Drug’ brought the audience to its feet at the finale.
Although rock band and chamber orchestra may have been an unlikely combination, it worked. A top-quality performance pulled off with gusto, and night not soon to be forgotten.