Writer Harry Croxford / Photographer Erin Connolly
Performing at Hare and Hounds and supported by fellow Aussies, Greatest Hits, Donny Benét’s return to the UK is a triumphant expression of a libidinal, schmoozy, extravagance that has come to define his act, and which has cemented a loyal fanbase since his early days performing with Jack Ladder and The Dreamlanders.
Although sporting a name not particularly accommodating to Google’s search algorithm, Greatest Hits’ support is joyous, danceable, and tightly choreographed. Tracks like ‘Swimming’ shimmer through the funk-driven basslines and percussion, and this sunshine psych-pop sets the scene.
Next, the chants. The repeating chorus of “Donny, Donny, Donny” surges up and out as the man himself – bass in tow – crosses through the crowd and onto the stage.
Then, the outstanding single ‘Working Out’, recognisable to most people familiar with his music. With a bass-tone that sounds almost liquid, Benét is smooth and commanding as he croons:
“Hitting the showers, it’s not my scene / Cos there’s too much meat beneath the steam.”
Benét’s lyrics hit in their absurd sensuality and hilarity, a trait that seems to run like geological mineral veins through much of the recent wave of acts from Australia, with Benét joined varyingly by the likes of Alex Cameron, Kirin J Callinan, and Amyl and the Sniffers.
His schmoozer persona, whiskered and balding, pairs perfectly with his risqué lyrics and eighties aesthetic.
Self-aware of the crudity and sleaze of his song-writing, Benét leans into – or bloody well canoodles – the image he has cultivated over the years. This whiskered, balding, schmoozing, cruising, motel-bar crooner, with enough horny energy to power a Boeing 747, moves effortlessly between tracks.
His image is inseparable from his overall sound. From slap-bass and saxophone to ice-cool keys, tracks like ‘Girl of My Dreams’ have the smooth delightfulness of a Haruomi Hosono pop track.
Meanwhile, the only track from Benét’s recent instrumental EP Le Piano to make the set attests to a musical brilliance. One that recalls much of the contemporary retro wave disco-electronic acts, like Payfone or Makeup and Vanity Set.
It would be great to see more of Benét’s instrumental-electronica on stage.
Despite a general veneer of eighties pastiche, there is a sincerity to Benét’s music: his comedic intermissions – playing off the cologne-soaked schmoozer-type that he has so lovingly crafted – contextualises and sets up each track.
From cheeky and relatable anecdotes about sneaking downstairs for a twilight snack in ‘Second Dinner’, to his looks overtaking his once-youthful once-beautiful friends in ‘Moving Up’, I would have happily paid solely for the man’s chat: a night with Benét perhaps?
I would be doing my hometown a disservice if I were to forgo Benét’s musings on his heritage. Part-Italian, part-English, those few among us in the audience who – let alone merely being aware of Northampton’s geographic location – felt the warm, budding, hand of recognition as Benét tracks down where his carceral forebears hailed from:
“North..hampshire?…Northampton…anyone from Northampton here tonight? Is it a good place to live?”
To which the few Northamptonians responded resoundingly: “NO”’.
A peripheral moment among many in which Benét interacted, responded, and connected to his audience.
From anecdote to crowd interaction, Benét never misses a beat. If this show is anything to go by, up until the very last track of the very last tour date, he’ll still be as rip-roaringly hilarious and marvellous.
You can check out more of Donny Benét’s tunes, and his most recent EP Le Piano here: www.donnybenet.com
For more from the Hare and Hounds go to: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk