I’m pretty dirty on Donavon. Not only has he taken me back to the blissful era of being 17, unaffected by the push and pull of responsibility and where Saturday nights meant a four pack of cruisers and Snoop Doggy Dog on repeat, but he has once again made me fall deeply and unconditionally in love with him.
The first time I saw Donavon he had the most distinguishable moustache, with immaculate curling and outstanding symmetry without being at all genteel. He turned up to Centennial Park to support Jack Johnson, clad in leather pants, a button down red shirt and a cowboy hat. I thought Mick Jagger and Tim McGraw had run off and had a love child. He was smooth and as the rain fell he played Swing on Down to an overwhelming mass and I knew, at that very moment, that Donavon Frankenreiter would break my heart.
With his new and fourth studio album Glow floating in the virtual stream, Donavon once again returned to Australian shores for the fifth time to unleash the casual, infectious, heart lifting rhythms he is so well known for. Playing to a sun-bleached sea of surfing misfits, Mona Vale Hotel on Sydney’s Northern Beaches could not have been a more appropriate venue for him to ring out his new tunes as he made his merry way, surf board in hand, up and down Australia’s East Coast.
As darkness dispersed, beer taps deployed, fake IDs flipped around and general good times got underway Sticky Fingers, a psychedelic rock band from Sydney, opened the show. With long locks curtaining faces and eyes shut, two baby-faced boys bellowed out a well-versed mix of soul, reggae and indie rock. Bringing quiet to the room and chills to the spine, it was something akin to watching the Kooks when they were still unsigned and doing it for the love. Playing their own songs, Headlock and Juicy Ones as the room filled out, Sticky Fingers warmed the atmosphere, along with a few swooning female hearts, and brought my friends and I to the conclusion that they were indeed good, and possibly too many years our junior. The band, now steadily amassing a strong fan base, have previously supported the likes of Art vs Science, Amy Meredith and Children Collide and it wasn’t hard to see why.
With a well-lubricated room, Donavon stepped out onto the stage. A little more weathered than I had last remembered and a few more kegs in the engine, but he was the same moustached, shaggy haired surfer that originally sucked me in to the world of laid-back, coastal tunes; the same music that inspires community and a brief detachment from the gravity of the world. Wearing a genuine smile and striking the first few chords of Free, the writhing congregation began to sway harmoniously at his feet and for just a moment that was all that mattered. Once again, rain fell outside and the room was congested with nothing but waving beer cups and hugging sun-kissed kids.
The night flowed and Donavon brought his new album to the forefront, playing Glow, Hold On, Keeping Me Away and Shadows. Without a hint of pretence, his songs are always exactly what they say they are and if you were lucky enough to lose yourself in the night you wouldn’t notice that each one was strikingly similar to the next in tempo, structure and rhythm.
But Donavon isn’t part of the new age, soy latte drinking, and hipster-moving scene. Sure, just like his buddy Jack Johnson, he gets paid to be a free surfer and an all round fun guy, but he’s not tied to the visual expectations that the ‘uber-cool’ Sydney community might demand of him. His songs reverberate light, melodic and carefree lyrics and are matched with husky acoustic vocals to reassure an identity-searching crowd that everything is going to be just all right. And that’s why we all fall in love with him.
When people begin to move from swaying to shaking, to downright old fashioned hip swinging, Donavon slips some well loved oldies into the mix playing his soft rock likes of Call Me Papa, It Don’t Matter and Heading Home, which only inspires the more intoxicated to jump on the stage and join in, much to Donavon’s pleasure and encouragement. When Donavon sends Swing on Down soaring through the room, people tip their heads back in utter euphoria. Arms go over shoulders in campfire camaraderie and others raise their hands to the roof and begin to make a cult like butterfly motion, back and forth, a sign also related to the airy and sunny acoustic beats of Jack Johnson.
After a long extended encore he sends his people off into the night to enjoy fine wine and finer company. I, on the other hand, return home to wallow and prepare myself for his departure and what will inevitably be his long awaited return.