Midway through Salter's suicide ballad You, Me And The Sea, the venerable dude behind the sound desk decides to jump on the room's upright piano.
This pared-back version of sprawling Brisbane ensemble The Gin Club may be light on personnel, but there's nothing lite about their free show tonight in Lomond Hotel's front bar. Adrian Stoyles and Ben Salter (The Gin Club Two) power through 20-plus songs spanning The Gin Club's entire career and also include samples from their own solo catalogues. The two-man acoustic format suits the room and exploits the pair's musicianship and songwriting prowess. Salter's Ten Paces Away, customarily a big-rocker, is stripped back to expose its wonderful turns of phrase — "You've got five crooked fingers from one crooked melted hand... You've got five lame excuses you supply me on demand." There's no setlist, rather the duo alternates picking songs, which gives the night a relaxed, rough-and-ready feel. Stoyles nominates Already Gone, and Salter has to take a minute to recall its distinctive guitar lick. Once it gets going, though, it's a treat.
Salter's voice is big and rugged; Stoyles' is sweeter and more naturally melodic. They complement each other beautifully. That's never more evident than on Dear Rose, from The Gin Club's 2004 self-titled debut, where Stoyles' delicate vocal is offset by a lovely Salter harmony that builds to a throat-wrecking howl. Salter leaves nothing on the track — his paean to apathy and regret Gas Guzzler, from the epic 2008 double LP Junk, can sprawl to seven noisy minutes when played with a full band; tonight, his heart-rending roar and deft guitar work pack an equivalent punch. Given the acoustic format, the gentler moments are most magnetic, such as Salter's You Don't See and Stoyles' Lies with their fingerpicked guitar and sweet vocals. We get the pair of Stoyles' excellent, stirring pop songs from 2014's Southern Lights — Dancing With The Ghost and the title track — along with his Junk murder ballad Girl Kills Man with its rousing melody and unsettling narrative.
Laidback as tonight is, there are bound to be hiccups. Salter embarks on a joke about The Eagles that is derailed when he loses his pick inside his guitar. Stoyles gets through the intro of Gone (from 2010's Deathwish) before changing his mind and bailing. Midway through Salter's suicide ballad You, Me And The Sea, the venerable dude behind the sound desk decides to jump on the room's upright piano; for a moment it seems like something inspired is about to happen, but the piano just throws Salter off. Still, he brings the song home (sans piano) in heartbreaking fashion — it's not quite the same without Bridget Lewis' long, slow cello notes, but his line "And I am calm as my feet start to drift away" still gives shivers. The Gin Club Two have one more song left in them, and it's Pirate Song, from 2005's Fear Of The Sea. It tests Stoyles vocally this late in the night, but he delivers with suitably rum-drunk swagger and sends us off warmed and happy into the cold night.