Perth Arena silently judges artists who can’t fill it. Curtains shroud the furthest corners of the nosebleed section, offering performers the false, almost sarcastic suggestion of a full house. It’s an arena that literally throws shade.
Bruce Springsteen can play here three nights, at capacity, without a valance in sight. Lady Gaga’s last appearance, however, required some drapery in the top tiers. I once – reluctantly – covered a YouTubers convention at the Arena that not only required dropped curtains round the back, but a pushed-forward stage too. Sometimes, even filling the front seats is an issue.
If Stevie Nicks or support act Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders were disheartened by the presence of the venue’s fabric screens, they didn’t show it. On the first Australian stop of Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold Tour, the rock legends filled the (admittedly, few) empty spaces with their commanding voices and charisma. The crowd, in turn, let them know how loved they were, at a volume akin to a sold-out stadium, throughout their marathon three-and-a-half-hour concert.
Of course, the colliding fandoms of Nicks and Hynde made for interesting cohabitation, with scores of women in black peasant blouses and top hats passing men in tattered Suzi Quatro tees. There were capes. There were shawls. There were burly dudes in AC/DC shirts. It was like an impromptu Ren Faire hosted in Mad Max’s Bartertown.
Hynde walked out wearing her own merch – for the Pretenders, naturally – and delivered a rousing rockabilly set, with only one tender singalong in Hymn to Her. It was the band’s first gig since Hynde angrily stormed off stage in Dubai last week, calling the audience “cunts” after they declined to put away their phones. During just their second song, Hynde began yelling out to the front rows, “Put your camera away,” which may not have been the “exclusive” interaction those guests had hoped for when they shelled out $500 for the Gold VIP package.
Meanwhile, from the safety of the stalls, a man and woman struggled with the flash function of their iPhone camera as they tried to capture – in focus – themselves, their beers and the Jumbotron. Sitting behind them, you start to see where Hynde is coming from.
As the set wore on, her fans grew more excitable; a lone woman rushed the stage and began gyrating against the barricade, while a security guard could only impotently squat beside her and beg her to stop. Hynde took it in stride, cheerfully handing the woman a coveted guitar pick. Lord knows what would have happened if she’d been toting a camera phone.
Closing with Hynde’s signature final cry from Brass in Pocket, the Pretenders exited, allowing the stage to be reset in the style of a seance, complete with teardrop light globes and rustic chandeliers. Imagine The Craft, as furnished by Pottery Barn.
Nicks emerged to perform the solo songs from her “dark trunk” in a voice untarnished by age. For almost each tune, she provided an airy, long-winded, ultimately enchanting tale of origin, detailing failed relationships and fortuitous collaborations with Prince and Tom Petty. She ended by thanking Perth for helping her through the first show since the passing of her dear friend Tom.
Many of the personal stories were delightful. Others – like how she taught Prince to start ruching his pants – could barely be classified as trivia, yet the audience received them happily. Even generic platitudes inspired rousing ovations, like when Nicks reminded us to “follow your dreams”. An emphatic fan nearby, in a fit of positive reinforcement, was moved to reply: “YES!”
After her rollicking Tom Petty collaboration Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (with Hynde in the place of Petty) and Fleetwood Mac’s classic Gypsy, Nicks settled into a groove of less familiar but personal tracks. At least one person grew restless in her seat. “Come on Stevie, play some normal songs,” she screamed. It would be at least another hour before Nicks and her eight-piece band answered that request, with the wild, one-two punch of Gold Dust Woman and the still-electrifying Edge of Seventeen, followed by Rhiannon in the encore.
She relied on just a piano and acoustic guitar for the closer, the fittingly reflective and melodious Landslide. The crowd in unison held their cameras up to capture the moment for posterity, and from above, it looked like fireflies had descended. It was Nicks’ most powerful moment of white witchery: turning our phones into more light fixtures. And to think Chrissie Hynde would have had us throw them away.
• Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders’ Australian tour continues through South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria in November