"We are watching grief, watching emotions being processed in real time."
Riverfire means a couple of things if you’re from Brisbane. Maybe you’ll brave the inner-city crowds for a prime spot on the Brown Snake with all the screaming toddlers. Maybe you’ll fork out the cash for a package deal at a swanky bar. Maybe you couldn’t give a shit about exploding gunpowder and have Uber Eats on the way. Or maybe you’ve bought tickets to the Brisbane Festival Closing Party at Riverstage.
We hightail it over the Goodwill Bridge, making it just in time before they close it for the evening. Didirri is on stage, crooning his heartfelt lyrics to a crowd reclining on the Riverstage’s natural amphitheatre, seeking refuge from the harsh sun. He sets the tone for the event – it’s a night of uninhibited lyricism. A night of raw and open storytelling.
A C-17A Globemaster flies overhead, so close we can practically touch it. The sky fills with bats and it’s a very Queensland image. “I like your giant planes, Brisbane,” Odette laughs. “They’re not freaky at all.” Delivering her powerful pop ballads, it's a cover of Magnolia by her “favourite band” Gang Of Youths that sees the set hit its high, but Lotus Eaters is evidence of her mastery of words.
Hayley Mary, frontwoman for The Jezabels, stands tall wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket. They open with Easy To Love and we get moody indie-rock, breaking out the eyeliner as they straddle a line between goth and pop. Technical issues plague the beginning of their set but when The Jezabels hit their stride, hoo boy, Mary’s voice cuts like a knife. Forget the F/A-18F Super Hornets, she’s an unstoppable force.
The opulence and celebration of the fireworks when they eventually litter the sky is put into perspective as Dallas Green, aka City & Colour, takes the stage. An image of a lone horse fills the screen and the gravity of his situation begins to take hold; Green’s producer and engineer Karl “Horse” Bareham has just passed away.
“We made the decision to keep moving on and playing in his honour, but I need to address it,” Green begins to tell us but words escape him. “I don’t really know what to say. I’ve never thought about having to say it.”
The set, his first since Bareham’s death, is emotional. The crowd watches on, mouths agape, in awe of Green’s voice. We are watching grief, watching emotions being processed in real time. It seems strange to think 30 minutes prior we were giddy with colour, watching the crowd take selfies as fireworks bloomed in the sky. It feels like the wrong moment, wrong setting, wrong atmosphere to hear Green lay his heart bare. He marches stoically on, playing a setlist that sees an even spread of Bring Me Your Love, Little Hell and If I Should Go Before You along with singles from his forthcoming LP, A Pill For Loneliness. Cult favourite Sometimes’ absence is viscerally felt, however, Green's voice, as always, is the star, and draws everyone into the moment. An alliance of fans have gotten to their feet but the majority stay seated on the hill, almost reverent.
For the most part he lets the music do the talking but does take another moment to address the audience: “Try to remember we’re all fucked up and all trying to figure it out.” We soak in Green’s ability – and willingness – to open himself in this dark time.