Review: Tom Mac at the Gaso

Mac truly knows how to craft a great set and create a beautifully intimate, yet energetic atmosphere. If you have an interest in Australian folk rock, I’d highly recommend checking out his music.


Content Warning: mentions of racism/colonialism, sexual assault (no details)



As I hopped on the tram to Tom Mac’s gig in Collingwood, I plugged in my headphones and started listening to his latest single, ‘Macedon’. I was immediately greeted with triumphant (albeit cliché) Celtic folk string melodies and acoustic guitar chords. The song continued, sounding a little overproduced for my taste, with epic filmesque percussion in the background, dripping with reverb. But cutting through was Mac’s incredible voice and its complex timbrel qualities.

Armed with my tram-ride research, I was prepared for a cutesy indie-folk gig, where I would comment on his quirky lyricism and quaint four chord guitar instrumentals. But upon entering the Gaso, I was confronted with something a little more complex: a question of cultural appropriation versus appreciation.

Mac began his set with a luscious blend of the deep, rumbling tones of the didgeridoo with soft, resonant arpeggios of his acoustic guitar. The sounds being produced were lovely. In between songs, Mac took the time to re-tune his beat-up old acoustic, and while doing so, he opened up to the audience about his connection to Indigenous culture and land. It was obvious throughout that Mac had only the purest intentions to appreciate and celebrate Indigenous culture. Unfortunately, intent does not always equal impact.

I spoke to Mac after the set and he clarified that he didn’t have any Indigenous heritage, but during his time in Arnhem Land, the Aboriginal people gave him a didgeridoo. He told me that they “really embraced [his music]” and encouraged him to “share it with others”.

However, he also acknowledged that he was “still tip toeing” around using the didgeridoo, and didn’t know if he had to ask the elders of each specific land he played on for permission. Aboriginal people are not a homogenous group, and so while one mob may grant permission for a non-Indigenous person to play the didgeridoo, this is not necessarily consent to play  whenever or wherever one feels. Some Indigeonous folk believe non-Indigenous people shouldn’t play it at all.

Now, I am in no position to critique or praise the use of the didgeridoo by non-Indigenous peoples. However, the complex cultural context surrounding the use of this sacred instrument made me so distracted that it started to obstruct my listening.

While I can’t set aside my concern that Mac was crossing the line from appreciation to appropriation, I can see that he is an experienced musician and a skilful performer. For the majority of the set, Mac sat all alone on stage, but still managed to create a fantastic energy with the use of looping pedals, digital percussion samples, octave pedals, a harmonica, and a voice harmonizer.

And while his songs had a predictable form, he grabbed the audience’s attention and held it firmly as he played through his discography. His works were a contrast of fun songs covering dreams and meeting (or not meeting) girls on tinder with more serious, damning pieces touching on sexual abuse, divorce, and fading memories.

Spliced throughout the set were three covers, with the most eccentric of them being a rendition of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It's Over’ with a few original rap verses. During this wild cover of an Aussie classic, Mac’s buddy, Woody Samson (who looks like Kevin Parker’s long lost twin brother)accompanied him on stage. Samson brought a whole new energy to the set, playing keyboard and electronic percussion, and weaving beautiful trumpet obligato around Mac’s vocal melodies. Samson’s tone and performance on the trumpet was beautiful throughout, but it really shone when he was playing the opening string melodies of ‘Macedon’. It’s safe to say, I much preferred the live rendition of his new single than the overproduced recording I heard on the tram.

Mac truly knows how to craft a great set and create a beautifully intimate, yet energetic atmosphere. If you have an interest in Australian folk rock, I’d highly recommend checking out his music. However, whilst I want to support this genuine, charismatic artist, I cannot wholeheartedly get behind his music. The use of the didgeridoo is questionable, as it has the potential to go beyond appreciation and become disrespectful to Indigenous people. I encourage Mac to think more deeply about how his use of the instrument may be causing offence and preventing audiences from enjoying his music.

As we perform and listen to music, it's important for all of us to remember that we do it on stolen lands. And so I acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we live, and pay my respects to Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty has never been ceded. It always was and always will be, Aboriginal land.


Image provided by Tom Mac.

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