Joe Robinson, Wednesday January 11, Bennetts Lane
In 2008 a 16-year-old Joe Robinson took out Australia's Got Talent with his humble charm and impressive guitar playing, his victory clinched with a performance of the Tommy Emmanuel arrangement of Classical Gas. But rather than cashing in on his notoriety and youth with a rushed album of covers, Robinson relocated to Nashville, where he has spent the last few years refining his style and building up an international cult following on YouTube.
The Joe Robinson that took the stage at Bennetts Lane last week clearly wasn't under any illusions about his past, and fleeting, notoriety. Rather, he seems prepared and willing to win Australia over again from the grassroots level. And this time, he's got more in his arsenal than just guitar chops.
With his just-released album Let Me Introduce You, Robinson has begun balancing his guitar virtuosity with a singer-songwriter sensibility, as well as broadening his style to incorporate the blues and jazz side of the spectrum. His set was nothing if not diverse, with the slick licks of songs like Lethal Injection balanced against mellow ballads, and with well-choreographed fingerpicking blitzes finding their antithesis in the gutsy blues improvisation of songs like Barely Hangin' On.
Robinson had some capable backing musicians behind him in the form of drummer Marcus Hill and bassist 'Snoopy' Clark, but didn't always need to use them. Taking another leaf out of Tommy Emmanuel's book, Joe broke one of his solo guitar pieces down into rhythm, chord and melody parts, before playing them all as a whole. Then, with a wink, he raised the bar on his mentor by doubling the pace.
Moments like this seemed to be fuelled, not by ego, but by a desire on Joe's part to really throw down for the audience. Indeed, even after most of us seemed ready to leave satisfied, Joe unexpectedly returned with the most ripping songs of his entire set; The swingin' jazz jive of Uli's Jump and (naturally) that iconic arrangement of Classical Gas, reworked just enough to distinguish the 'kid prodigy' Joe of the past from the auteur Joe of today.
It's not all perfect. Some of Joe's soloing, while always impressive, feels a little too measured and symmetrical, and his vocals, though quite listenable, aren’t yet strong enough to carry the attitude of songs like Hurricane. Still, 'Joe from the fuckin' boondocks', as he describes himself, has come a hell of a long way. And with his skills as an entertainer now matching his skills as a virtuoso, I'm betting he'll go a lot further yet.
BY JESSE SHROCK
LOVED: A reality show winner playing Bennetts Lane.
DRANK: Pipsqueak Apple Cider.