Thelma Plum walked on stage and launched into Triple J fave, ‘Not Angry Anymore’ a track that cuts straight to raw, honest, love-lost lyrics with no instrumental introduction required for impact. Her ‘Better in Blak’ debut album only released four weeks prior is already a hit list of anthemic tunes signified by the sing-along Marketta masses.
Plum excitedly reinforced this achievement shouting, “This is the very first show of the tour!” And we can now attach ‘sell-out’ to this tour, with most shows now advertising waitlists. Up early on the set list ‘Woke blokes’ gave us a glimpse into the 21st century version of the Divinyl’s ‘Boys in Town’ – not just in song theme but with Plum’s rich timbre and vulnerability of voice, just like legend Chrissie Amphlett’s, as well as oodles of performance style. The sass was saved for the finger clicking pop vibes of ‘Don’t Bring a Good Girl Down’ and ‘Homecoming Queen’ a country tinged song that Plum, a Gamilaroi woman, reflects about her teenage years regarding the zero presentation of young Indigenous women in the mainstream media. During this twelve-show national tour she will be a voice for Aboriginal people’s truths, singing lyrics on ‘Homecoming Queen’ about the referendum date Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people were constitutionally recognised to vote. “Because in 1967 I wasn’t human. I am still here. We are still here.”
The Gold Coast crowd had done their lyrical homework singing the chorus to the slow dance acoustic song ‘Nick Cave,’ where Plum cradling her beautiful black hollow body electric guitar, sings of a time she turned vegan for a boy and worked at Mrs Flannery’s. Running outside of her song performances throughout the concert is a vein of humour that’s so endearing. Plum had us in the palm of her hand with her funny stories – the ‘OMFG moment’ when she accidentally texts Paul Kelly before a song-writing meeting (‘Made For You’) and on stage introducing the band forgets the drummer’s (Dan Williams) name and manages to turn the situation around. She is a natural storyteller and has a gracious self-conscious humour which is alluring and rare. Yet Plum has a confident determination to stand in front of an unknown crowd and tell the truth in songs. Introducing ‘Love and War’ a song about the abysmal treatment of Aboriginal boys at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, she politely silences those carelessly chatting in the crowd with, “In case you don’t know I’ve got this room darlin’.”
Working through the songs on the new album Plum leaves the best songs to last, the catchy radio favourite ‘Thulumaay Gii’ meaning ‘thunder and heart’ in Gamilaroi language, the Kate Miller-Heidke-like pitch purity of ‘Ugly’, and title track, ‘Better in Blak’ which has feelings of Fleetwood Mac harmonies you just can’t get out of your head. ‘Better in Blak’ is the absolute package of style and wit. We love the seventies influenced album cover art also replicated as the stage backdrop, the slick sound production even in this small setting, the band’s pared back instrumentals that don’t drown out her economic yet philosophically rich lyrics and most notably her sublime voice – she can sing without the need to overstretch it. We feel fortunate to see this brilliant artist in our own suburban venue, because we know next time around Thelma Plum may only be performing on bigger stages.
Images (C) Gio Siregar