When Arno Carstens steps out on the stage, alone, and starts performing ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ as an acoustic ballad, the message is clear: he’s grown up.
Not that the Springbok Nude Girl has lost his edge – witness the distortion-drenched finale, the bottle of Jager at his feet, the burning ‘Blue Eyes’ lit up by former partner in crime Theo Crous. He’s simply matured into an articulate singer-songwriter.
So launching his refined third album, ‘Wonderful Wild’, in the intimacy of Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre is an inspired decision. “Pay attention, pay attention,” Carstens sings almost needlessly in set opener ‘The Hello Goodbye Boys’ – in a venue like this, it’s not like your mind can wander.
And, backed by a tight five-piece band capable of strength and subtlety, the singer has little trouble entrancing the seated audience with a showcase of his solo career: ‘Another Universe’, ‘Feel It’, an amped-up ‘Hole Heart’, an adrenalised ‘Kite’.
But the emphasis is on album number three, with the new songs welcomed as warmly as his back catalogue. The delicate title track, ‘Wonderful Wild’, elegantly showcases Carstens’ unique voice; ‘Dreamer’ bulks up with the muscle of Kevin Leicher’s chugging guitar; ‘Soldiers Shine’, enriched by Brendan Jury’s keyboards and violin, soars even higher than it does on the record; and ‘Emergency’ grows into a bonafide rock anthem, power chords and all.
Carstens keeps his between-song banter to a minimum, but that just places more emphasis on the music – which is, after all, what everyone from Flat Stanley’s Andrew Mac to Ferdinand Rabe has come to hear. And, judging by the out-of-his-seat-cheers from Cassette’s Jon Savage, nobody’s left disappointed.
- This article originally appeared on EntertainmentAfrica.com.