More than two decades since INXS frontman Michael Hutchence died, beloved ballad “Never Tear Us Apart” is still being heard in venues throughout Australia and as recently as Saturday night (Nov. 16), when Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas brought out INXS’ Andrew Farriss to the stage.
The two led a poignant 9,000-person singalong at Bimbadgen Winery in Hunter Valley, near Sydney, the city where Hutchence’s body was found on Nov. 22, 1997.
“With Michael Hutchence and the guys we used to perform it around the world,” Farriss said, introducing the track. “I’m really blessed to be here tonight with these guys and thank you for having me.”
Thomas, who is currently on the Australian leg of his solo Chip Tooth Tour, is a longtime friend and fan of INXS, describing their music as “my childhood” and fondly recalling meeting the late Hutchence more than two decades ago as Matchbox Twenty were rising to fame.
“When you talk about the [top] 1%, it’s the Madonnas and the Princes, and Michael Hutchence was one of those people,” Thomas told Variety after the performance. “He was one of the most enigmatic sexy performers of all time.”
How did the two originally meet? “At a festival in the States with a bunch of bands and INXS was there,” Thomas continued. “I stuck my head in and was, like, ‘Hey man, I love you guys!’ They said, ‘Hi,’ and Michael was there and lovely.”
Thomas previously recorded “Never Tear Us Apart” with the Australian rockers, who continued making music and touring following Hutchence’s death. In 2012, Matchbox Twenty and INXS then toured Australia together. The two groups have remained close with Thomas and Farriss catching up backstage at the winery event, A Day on the Green, before surprising fans with their joint performance.
Later in the concert, Thomas brought out another special guest, 10-year-old “Australia’s Got Talent” musician Taj Farrant, who wowed the crowd in his handling of Carlos Santana’s guitar parts in “Smooth.”
“What is that? What is happening right now?” Thomas cracked, watching the young talent in awe. Farrant was previously flown to the U.S. by Ellen Degeneres to appear on her talk show, and also joined Thomas on stage in Sydney on Wednesday night.
Following Saturday’s show, Thomas headlined another Day on the Green gig at Queenland’s Sirromet Wines, where he joined Australian icon Pete Murray on stage during Better Days. “I just love the song, so I jumped on stage,” Thomas said. “We have a bit of a bromance!”
Thomas wraps his Australian tour in Perth on Nov. 23, then plays radio shows in the U.S. leading up to Christmas. His Down Under trek comes three years after he unintentionally made a remark considered offensive to the nation’s indigenous people during a concert in Melbourne.
Since then Thomas has spent time with members of the Aboriginal community, who reached out hoping to educate him about their culture and history. “Instead of making it a punishable moment, they made it a teaching moment,” he reflects. “Because of that, when I come here now, I look at the country differently. When it happened it was like, ‘Man, if I just didn’t say that one thing,’ — but if I hadn’t said that one thing, I wouldn’t have all the friends I have here now.”