Tommy thrills at the Opera House
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
Australia has no greater guitarist than Tommy Emmanuel. Full stop. End of story.
In fact, he is probably the best the guitarist in the world.
In his hands, he can make a single acoustic six-string sound like an orchestra.
And he can make an entire audience stop breathing.
So it is only fitting that one of the world’s finest musicians should perform on the stage of one of the world’s finest concert halls.
Tommy Emmanuel and the Sydney Opera House belong together.
It is not the first time Tommy has played the Opera House and hopefully it won’t be his last.
But, as he said during his September 30 concert, he always knew that was where he wanted to be.
“I couldn’t have imagined how it would be possible that I would one day play in the Opera House,” he said.
“But I did imagine it. As a ten-year-old boy I saw myself here.”
The guitar has been Tommy Emmanuel’s life and his dedication to the instrument has certainly been rewarded.
If the long gone Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson really did sell his soul to the devil in the 1930s in exchange for better guitar skills, then Tommy Emmanuel must have done a deal with a more powerful entity – because his prowess on the instrument is truly out of this world.
Tommy has thrilled audiences across Australia and around the globe with his fast and furious picking, his gentle meanderings over the fret board and his sheer brilliant musicianship.
These days he resides in Nashville, Tennessee but he regularly returns to Australian shores to the delight of home grown audiences.
His most recent appearance at the Sydney Opera House was Tommy Emmanuel at his outstanding best.
His blend of classy instrumentals and the occasional song he put his voice to (he doesn’t sing a lot but he sings really well), worked a treat.
So did the mix of styles he chose to perform.
From the traditional old-world Deep River Blues, to Guitar Boogie, to a jaw-dropping Beatles medley, to a wealth of his original tunes, the concert was mesmerising from start to finish.
Tommy uses the whole guitar, to make it percussive as well as melodic. The sounds he draws out of his instrument are amazing.
As always, Tommy gave more than a passing nod to his hero the late Chet Atkins.
He played a few of Atkins’ numbers to honour the man who gave Tommy one of his own greatest honours.
In the 1990s, Chet Atkins named Tommy Emmanuel a Certified Guitar Player – a formal recognition Atkins gave to only five people.
Tommy uses the CGP honorific with pride. He earned it.
He is as proud of that as he is the other letters after his name – AM, for being named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010 for services to music.
On this tour, Tommy brought with him another CGP, Nashville’s Steve Wariner, who not only opened the show but returned to join Tommy onstage for a few numbers during the main act.
Together, the duo played a chillingly beautiful rendition of Wichita Lineman, in tribute to the recently passed Glen Campbell.
But for more than two hours it was Tommy Emmanuel standing (and sometimes sitting) alone on the stage of the Opera House.
Alone with his guitar. The world at his fingers.