Live Review: Robert Forster, Evanston, IL, Nov. 11, 2019

Robert Forster is not the kind of guy who rushes things. The Australian singer, songwriter and guitarist released his first solo album in 1990, but it took him until this year to do a solo tour of North America. His last visit to the Chicago area was in 2005, which was the last time the Go-Betweens, his storied group with the late Grant McLennan, played in the U.S. Both Forster and a capacity crowd braved an unseasonably premature snow storm to convene in Space, a club in suburban Evanston, last Monday night.

Space is an intimate, sit-down venue, with seating wrapped around three sides of the stage. Forster performed alone, toting an acoustic guitar and opening the concert with “Born To A Family,” from the final Go-Betweens record, Oceans Apart. This cagey selection—neither an old favorite from the band’s splendid run of songs in the 1980s, nor a new solo tune—framed the concert as a semi-autobiographical look back upon an extraordinary life and partnership.

Forster was in fine voice, and what his playing lacked in flash, it more than made up with timing. Over the course of 20 songs, which ultimately reached as far back as the Go-Betweens’ third album but also included some sterling choices from Forster’s recent LPs, Songs To Play, The Evangelist and Inferno, Forster sang about bohemian pasts (including, but not limited to, his own) and ardent love affairs, and savored the less intense but enduring satisfactions of living a long life.

He honored McLennan by playing one of his old songs, the fiery “In The Core Of The Flame,” and their final collaboration, the posthumously completed “Demon Days.” The acutely paced set built from understated reminiscence to a jubilant “Surfing Magazines,” which featured the audience singing the chorus while Forster shouted out the names of beaches renowned by wave-riders around the world. 

—Bill Meyer; photos by Liina Raud