INXS tribute full of sensations old and new

14 May 2023

Perth Symphony Orchestra channels the spirit of Michael Hutchence in a rocking show but it’s the quiet power of Abbe May that bewitches Julie Hosking.

INXS Reimagined, Perth Symphony Orchestra 
Perth Concert Hall, 13 May 2023 

I was working at a Melbourne newspaper on the day Michael Hutchence died in November 1997. Like Diana’s death only three months earlier, the news shocked even the more hardened journos on the desk. He was so young, so charismatic, so talented. So alive. 

There’s a good chance much of the crowd at tonight’s sold-out show with Perth Symphony Orchestra remember that day well, too. As the frontman for the world-conquering INXS – they sold more than 70 million albums – Hutchence was irreplaceable, as several lead singers brought in to fill his shoes would later find. 

So it’s a smart decision not to lay that impossible load on one singer. A decision that delivers one of the most beautiful covers – or reimaginings, as PSO prefers to call them – I’ve heard live. 

In a nod to the muse, many of the musicians wear leather, with conductor Laurissa Brooke leading the charge in leather jacket, sparkly pants and kickass boots. And the Women on the Podium alumna brings the energy to match, almost dancing along with her baton. 

Conductor Laurissa Brooke leads Perth Symphony Orchestra through INXS’ parade of hits. Photo: Callen Dellar

Tyrone Noonan is given the bulk of the solo work, and he certainly has the voice to carry those unforgettable songs, deep and husky one minute, high and aching the next. There’s no suggestion he should be imitating Hutchence – what would be the point – but he could have done with a bit more of the frontman’s engagement with the audience and made more use of the stage.  

Noonan seems more at ease when he has someone to share that space with, whether riffing off an energetic Mark Turner on saxophone on What You Need or dueting with Vin Trikeriotis on The Easybeats’ Good Times. Brought in to sing the Jimmy Barnes part on a rare INXS cover, the WAAPA student shows he’s one to watch. 

But it’s Abbe May who steals the show for me. Sporting a white hat and gold boots, she has the air of a woman who knows exactly what she’s here for. And, boy, does she deliver. As that marvellous voice fills the auditorium with a plaintiff Don’t ask me/what you know is true, a hush descends in the audience. The orchestra rises and falls, matching dramatic note for note, the angelic West Australian Young Voices melding into one behind May. It’s a spinetingling reimagining of Never Tear Us Apart

Her best, however, is yet to come. Following a rich rendition of Mystify from Noonan, May returns to lead a tribute to Hutchence in the second act.  With photos of the band sliding across the screen above her, the West Australian treasure pours herself into a slow-burning New Sensation, the lyrics laden with added meaning: You’re only human/what can you do?/It’ll soon be over/Don’t let the pain take over you. The orchestra is sublimely restrained, never overwhelming May’s magnificent instrument and yet creating an almost cinematic experience. Hutchence would have applauded this heartrending reinvention, I’m sure. 

Tyrone Noonan and Vin Trikeriotis rock Perth Concert Hall on ‘Good Times’. Photo: Callen Dellar

There’s more than a touch of delightful nonsense in the evening’s proceedings, too, with PSO roping in the choir again for the silly We’re the Vegetables (which devotees would know was what INXS called themselves in the early days in Perth), and Turner and fellow backup singer Mia Matthiessen leading the audience on Baby Don’t Cry, the three words ringing out over and over.  

This is an orchestra clearly enjoying themselves. I tend to get carried away by PSO’s stellar strings but the superb arrangements give the brass section plenty of moments to shine, picking up the tempo on hits such as Devil Inside and What You Need. And harpist Kira Gunn earns every moment in the spotlight, moving fluidly from elegant to cascading in the most magical of sounds.

When all the singers return to the stage for a rockier version of New Sensation, the crowd are on their feet, clapping and singing along. We have, to paraphrase the Easybeats, had a great time tonight: I feel good tonight and everything’s gonna be right right right. 

Perth Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, The Art and Life of Kathleen O’Connor, is at Perth Cultural Centre, 30 June-1 July 20

Pictured top: Abbe May steals the show with stunning versions of ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘New Sensation’. Photo: Callen Dellar

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

Past Articles

  • Spring into the school holidays

    From Awesome activities to magical nannies, there are so many marvellous ways to have a jolly holiday, writes Julie Hosking.

  • In the eye of the storm

    Breaksea’s poignant story of the search for light in the darkest hours ignites the senses. Julie Hosking rides the waves of emotion.

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