"Faithful's not a bad word," sang Grant McLennan Thursday at the 9:30 club, and the faithful were well rewarded by him and his sometime partner Robert Forster. Only a few hundred people attended the performance by the two Australian singer-songwriters, the founders of the under-appreciated 1980s band the Go-Betweens, but the audience's enthusiasm brought the duo back to the stage for three sets of encores.
A Go-Betweens compilation has recently been released, providing the official reason for Forster and McLennan's first joint Washington appearance since 1991, but they didn't just play material from that collection. The set included several tunes from their solo albums, a few new songs and such welcome obscurities as "Lee Remick," the band's playful first single.
Most of these punk-folk songs were originally recorded with fuller arrangements, and a few suffered from a lack of the backing vocals that buoyed their melodies in the recorded versions. Still, Forster and McLennan's tunes are sturdy enough to be delivered with only two acoustic guitars (often strummed at Feelies-like velocity) and the occasional harmonica. Whether performing a wistful vignette such as McLennan's "Cattle and Cane" or a transcendental rockabilly romp such as Forster's "121," the twosome once again demonstrated that it has one of the best obscure back catalogues in contemporary singer-songwriterdom.