There was dust in the lights against a draping, burnt orange curtain at the back of the stage as the relaxed crowd settled in their seats for this unadorned and conversational performance.

Lior and Domini sat on each side of a small table, an array of guitars racked beside them, greeting us with the observation that “people who come to watch cabaret are warm and friendly people”. That was certainly the feeling reflected back and forth between audience and performers, epitomised later when Lior thanked the crowd for listening and a voice was moved to answer, “thank you” before applause erupted.

A veteran of the Australian independent music scene, Lior came to prominence with his acclaimed 2005 debut album Autumn Flow, which captured perfectly that period’s folk and roots-influenced embrace of pop-minded melodies overflowing with melancholy strings atop achingly nostalgic lyrical worlds.

Since then, he has expanded his musical terrain with various classical and theatre-based works. Most notable was the symphonic song cycle Compassion with composer Nigel Westlake, first recorded in 2013 and performed many times since, including at WOMADelaide 2021 with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Emerging Melbourne songwriter Domini Forster released her well-received first album Raven in 2017 and has been working with Lior for eight years now, first playing as his support act, then backing singer. Forster eventually co-wrote and sang with him on the track ‘Where Will We Be’ from Lior’s last solo album, which also opened the night’s set.

Both share an accomplished predilection for, by turns, warmly energised and haunting vocals, expansive soundscapes and intimate storytelling. Each were also allowed time here to perform a few songs alone, including Domini’s light touch on a ukulele and Lior going bigger with sliding blues guitar on an appropriately satisfying cover of ‘Satisfied Mind.’

Their songwriting collaboration began in earnest at the fateful start of 2020, a process which would produce the ethereal folk EP Animal in Hiding – their “lockdown project” – released late last year. Notably, the project’s title song was actually composed before a global pandemic brought its theme into such inescapably sharp relief.

The inspiration for these six songs, which featured prominently in this tight hour-or-so-long show, is the spirit of ’60s folk icons like Simon & Garfunkel. That lineage certainly comes through in both the recorded numbers and live renditions, with lush timbre and lilting melodies reaching out into the suitably formal but intimate space of the Dunstan Playhouse.

The musical focus on harmonic unity also echoes broader thematic concerns – relevant here as were during the tumultuous 1960s – with ways of seeking solidarity and relatedness, or lamenting their loss, amid a complex, conflicted and often isolating era. The world outside is ever-present but only momentarily invoked, channelled always through interpersonal connections, as in single ‘Gloria’ – a song about “first impressions” and an elderly, “exceptional woman” Lior once walked home from the park “to make it back for the six o’clock news,” learning about her life along the way.

A final encore rendition of “the first song we ever sung together” brought things full circle, perhaps ironically so given its title of ‘I’ll Forget You’. But before that, came the pair’s penultimate rendition of their EP’s opening track, ‘Honest Mistake’ – a beautiful reflection on, what else, love as both responsibility and redemption, relational, as “finding someone who wants to own your trouble.”

The evening’s end brought forth murmurs of appreciative disappointment from the stalls. “Oh, we like you too,” came Domini’s response.

Lior & Domini: Animal in Hiding played for one night at the Dunstan Playhouse on June 23.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.