The last time Daniel Johns was seen on stage dates back to almost exactly five years ago, in which his then-band Silverchair attempted to start again for the umpteenth time, headlining the Groovin’ the Moo festival around regional Australia. Mixed reviews of their performances – not to mention a unanimously-negative response to new songs – were indicative that the wheels were falling off; and the band split within a year.
It was an untimely and unfitting end to what was simultaneously one of the most successful and most divisive rock bands to ever emerge from this sunburnt country. Even so, despite facing the demise of the band he had dedicated most of his life to, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this would not spell the end of Daniel Johns. He was never the type to go down so easy.
Cut to the present day, where Johns is basking in the new. His performance this evening marked the first-ever headlining performance under solely his name, with the lion’s share of the material being taken from his debut solo album, Talk, which was less than a week old. As it stands, Johns is living in the moment – and, subsequently, his first-ever show (again) benefited greatly from it. This was a dazzling, meticulously-crafted effort that both Johns and his seven-strong backing band had clearly put a phenomenal amount into.
The show began with Aerial Love, the late-night R&B revelation which made his previous reinvention in The Dissociatives a decade prior sound like Israel’s Son in comparison. From there, it was a vivid (pardon the pun) showcasing of Talk through all of its extravagance, eccentricities and recurrent excellence.
We Are Golden and Imagination both fleshed out impressively from their studio form, while tracks like Preach and Going On 16 took on a life of their own as Johns paraded about like a man possessed. Reactions to an album as polarising as Talk are bound to be varied, but the songs from it are delivered with such conviction that the audience response would leave one to imagine they made up a classic LP.
Speaking of the classics: We know what you’re wondering, and the answer is yes. There aren’t many, but there are indeed acknowledgements that Johns made music prior to Talk. The thudding rework of 2007’s Straight Lines is done more in a teasing way, with Johns almost performing the song ironically. It’s followed, however, with a take on The Dissociatives’ Young Man Old Man (You Ain’t Better Than the Rest); and gave a firm response to the hypothetical on how you make an already-weird song even weirder.
If there is but one niggling complaint, it’s that the night did not end on its most beautiful moment. Johns performed the masterful Silverchair ballad After All These Years at the top of the encore, accompanied only by vocodered harmonies in a manner similar to that of Bon Iver’s Woods.
A telling moment occurred when Johns stood, centre stage, and delivered the line “…and I’ll be home again.” If home is where the heart is, then Daniel Johns’ home is the stage. It’s where he allows himself to come back to life and, after all, there’s no place like home.
Daniel Johns @ The Sydney Opera House / Pics by Ashley Mar
Watch: Daniel Johns – Aerial Love