Guy SebastianBilled simply as ‘Guy’, the inaugural winner of Australian Idol Guy Sebastian has built a strong fan base, judging from the turnout at his gig with the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra at Hamer Hall on Saturday. The hall was packed with men, women and children of all ages. A strange setting for a pop idol, but it didn’t put off the fans, who applauded every song loudly, laughed at every joke and ended up giving Guy a standing ovation.

is still a number one Idol, charming and charismatic. His manner onstage was confident, relaxed, happy and self-effacing. He chatted to his audience as if we were in his lounge room or among the congregation at his church. He took us on a journey through his short career and through the various musical influences that shaped him: Nat King Cole, the Beatles, Elvis, the Righteous Brothers and Gospel music.

Bigger Stronger Better was the name of the tour that consisted of three concerts, two at the Sydney Opera House and this one in Melbourne. The name refers to his self-penned big ballad Taller Stronger, Better, which he sang as the final encore, obviously counting on the fact that he would be called back a couple of times.

Guy performed with the Australian Philharmonic (‘Pops’) Orchestra, a 60-piece orchestra that included harp, grand piano and a drummer, bass player and guitarist. Not to mention a choir of about forty singers. The orchestra was conducted on this occasion by Gavin Sutherland, an exuberant and energetic participant in the celebratory atmosphere. He was very fond of the grand crescendo and matched Guy in passion, but sometimes the vast accompaniment threatened to drown the vocal lead. In the second half, the mike sound and overall balance improved.

It was a generous (two and a half hour), comprehensive performance that started with some of his hits and songs from his latest album Closer to the Sun, including Elevator Love. There were no tributes to Stevie Wonder, one of his primary influences, but Elvis was there, right down to the hip action, which prompted a few screams from the fans, and so was Nat King Cole with Be Mine, a mellow lounge jazz number featuring piano and trumpet. His winning Idol song Angels brought me here started off at a cracking pace but slowed to the beautiful ballad that fits so well this angelic young man.

Pace was a problem at times. Guy would start to improvise a little but be held back by the orchestra, or the orchestra would start off at a gallop and Guy would be unable to hold them back. But they settled into a comfortable zone after a while. The quieter numbers worked well, with Guy able to take more control and weave his magic. His higher register and natural falsetto have astounding strength and clarity.

The first act concluded with Julie Andrews’s Climb Every Mountain, a song that helped him find success while climbing the Idol mountain. It suits his voice perfectly and the string section brought the anthem to a rousing crescendo.

After the interval Guy changed his dark jacket for a snazzy teal suede three-piece suit and launched into his Beatles favourites. With the clearer mike sound we were in for some treats. The orchestra split into smaller units as accompaniment. Hey Jude featured some nice Ringo-style drumming and audience participation. Yesterday was a highlight of this section. It opened quietly with voice and guitar before adding some lush strings that never overpowered the delicacy of the vocal line and its emotional intensity. Let it Be was less moving, partly because the choir was rather stiff in its interpretation.

It was time for Elvis to return and the Righteous Brothers to make an appearance. Guy handled the deeper notes well, although his middle register was not so strong. He launched into a favourite Nat King Cole song Unforgettable, a crooning number that he suited him but which the orchestra found rhythmically challenging.

Now for one of the strongest influences on this singer – the Church and Gospel music. It became clear why Guy had chosen to perform with the grandeur of a philharmonic orchestra behind him. The soaring strings and brass fanfares are ideal for the expression of joy and religious passion. Amazing Grace was to be the climax of the show, but was followed as an encore by the intimate and touching Falling in love with Jesus. The finale was his hit song Taller, Stronger, Better, an inspiring ballad that brought us up-to-date with his personal journey and ended on a sustained note that lingered hauntingly into the standing ovation.

Guy Sebastian and the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra

Venue: The Arts Centre | Hamer Hall
18th & 19th May 2007
Premium $120, A Reserve $100, B Reserve $80
Ticketmaster phone 1300 136 166

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