Live Review: Texas @ Forum Melbourne

1 February 2024 | 12:28 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Watching Texas live in Melbourne, it's clear they're anything but a predictable heritage act – they forever exist in the present.


Texas (Source: Supplied)

The Scottish rock band Texas – fronted by Sharleen Spiteri – have never been obviously trendy. Rather, they set trends or transgress them.

Since breaking out in 1989 with I Don't Want A Lover, off the Southside album, Texas have continually reinvented themselves. Famously, Texas collaborated with the Wu-Tang Clan in their mythic prime – RZA & co remixing 1997's Martika-interpolating Say What You Want, the Scots' biggest hit, from the blockbuster White On Blonde. But Texas also worked with UK trip-hoppers Rae & Christian – and have curated cool club remixes. In 2008, Spiteri presented a neo-soul solo LP to rival Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy. Today, Texas command a loyal fanbase without overtly trading on nostalgia – '80s, '90s or otherwise.

Despite taking a hiatus in the 2000s, Texas are still releasing fresh music – airing Hi, their triumphant 10th album, during the pandemic. Yet they remain a compelling live act – Spiteri a dynamo, her soulful voice never more powerful. Even Texas' drummer is on fire.

Texas visited Australia as early as 1989 – and last toured nationally here in 2017. This time, they're promoting a second 'greatest hits' anthology, The Very Best Of 1989 – 2023, issued in June 2023 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of I Don't Want A Lover and synchronised with a Glastonbury slot.

Back in 2017, Texas played 170 Russell in Melbourne. They've now upgraded to The Forum – with the option of ticketed seats. One of two Australian shows, it's sold out – and, in the same way that Paul Weller always attracts leagues of English expats, Scots are out in force, some in kilts. Spiteri will joke that, in Australia, the band's guest lists are as long as those in Glasgow. She is a vibe.

Texas' support is the local Shannen James. Auspiciously, the young indie singer/songwriter, who landed on triple j's radar with the singles Arrow and Superstitious, is dropping her debut album Patchwork this Friday. Accompanied by a compact band, James charms the audience, performing last year's cover of the Stealers Wheel (Gerry Rafferty) evergreen Stuck In The Middle With You and closing with her latest single, I Don't Mind.

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Texas may have presaged the Brit-pop explosion, being co-founded by Spiteri with bassist Johnny EcElhone, previously of Altered Images. Emerging when synths, not guitars, defined music, Texas followed other Celtic super-bands Simple Minds – routinely compared to U2 after they abandoned electronic experimentation for stadium rock on Sparkle In The Rain – and the sadly underrated Big Country. And, even now, guitars typically characterise Texas' sound – Spiteri performing alongside main guitarist Tony McGovern, with EcElhone inconspicuous at the back.

Texas entered the stage punctually mid-evening with Spiteri – ever the rock chick in a black top and jeans yet sporting a lime green guitar – dominating. The band launch boldly with a blistering I Don't Want A Lover – on record country with slide guitar, but tonight bluesier, elevated by stomping piano.

Speaking in a distinctive Glaswegian brogue, Spiteri is endearingly chatty with the crowd – and her banter is ribald. At one point, she talks about having surgery on her shoulder before Christmas, joking that it was caused by excess "wanking". But Spiteri also declares that, as an older woman, she doesn't filter herself: "I don't give a fuck."

Texas rip through their 30-year catalogue. An early highlight is 2020's melodiously epic Hi, the lead single from the album of the same title that resulted in the band's second collab with the Wu-Tang Clan. It shimmers live.

There are mellow moments too – such as In Our Lifetime, a lilting single off 1999's The Hush, which, like its predecessor White On Blonde, saw Texas team with Rae & Christian, the Mancunian duo applying a trip-hop aesthetic to Northern soul. Notably, the unabashed Spiteri will preface Keep On Talking, among the new songs on The Very Best Of 1989 – 2023, as "a Northern soul classic".

Still, Texas are all about energy. One of the night's peaks is a rendition of The Hush's Summer Son.

Texas can be dancey – performing groovier numbers like the discoey Let's Work It Out, from 2017's Jump On Board, mashed up with Orange Juice's idiosyncratic funk classic Rip It Up. Better again is Hi's sweeping soul jam, Mr Haze, sampling Donna Summer's disco Love's Unkind.

A quiet interlude arrives when it's just Texas and McGovern on stage for the spare ballad In Demand, an addition to 2000's The Greatest Hits that Spiteri describes as "a love song" – McGovern strumming acoustic guitar. Curiously, the band cut the track alongside Dallas Austin, the R&B producer renowned for his work with TLC and Madonna, circa Bedtime Stories. It could be their most neglected bop.

Texas' show climaxes with Black Eyed Boy, a Motowny, proto-Winehouse diamond off White On Blonde – Spiteri, McGovern and punters jumping. The band's "last song" is Say What You Want – though Spiteri drolly assures that they will customarily return for an encore. Live, Texas blend the original with the Wu remix, making for some sweet hip-hop soul.

Even the encore is special – Texas playing 2000's hooky Inner Smile, surely a festival anthem, and, finally, a live version of that signature Elvis Presley tune Suspicious Minds that previously closed their Glasto set.

The Mark James composition has had many lives – being memorably covered disco-style by both Candi Staton and Fine Young Cannibals in the '80s. However, Texas claim it, introducing a dramatic breakdown that broaches chopped and screwed rap. Indeed, Texas are anything but a predictable heritage act – they forever exist in the present.