Powderfinger became a commercial success with their third studio album Internationalist in 1998. Since then they have released several hit singles and award-winning works earning them a total of fifteen ARIA Awards. Numerous Powderfinger albums have reached platinum status multiple times, and rankings in the top 100 of Australian music charts. Odyssey Number Five, Powderfinger's most successful album to date, earned over eight platinum certifications and ARIA Awards in five different categories.
After the release of their first DVD These Days: Live in Concert and a "best of" release, Powderfinger announced a hiatus in 2005. The announcement of a two month-long nationwide tour with Silverchair entitled Across the Great Divide tour followed the release of their sixth studio album, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence in June 2007.
Across their sixteen year career, Powderfinger has been actively involved in philanthropic causes. In 2005, Powderfinger performed at a WaveAid concert in Sydney, to help raise funds for areas affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Another performance at the Sydney Opera House in October 2007 raised funds for breast cancer victims and their families. The aim of their recent Across the Great Divide tour was to promote the efforts of Reconciliation Australia, and to promote awareness of the seventeen year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
Powderfinger initially performed cover versions of other artists' songs, but gradually developed into writing and performing their own material. Playing a heavy metal show in Newcastle in 1990, Powderfinger was booed off the stage. In 1992, the group self-funded a recording of their early works and released them as a self-titled extended play, more commonly known as the Blue EP. The EP became successful and the group was signed by Polydor Records. Upon its release in 1993, Transfusion reached the #1 spot on the Alternative ARIA Charts, replacing Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box". The group recorded their first music video for the EP's lead track "Reap What You Sow". It was directed by David Barker, who went on to direct the next seven videos for the group.
The band released the highly successful Double Allergic on 2 September 1996. This, their second album, reached double platinum status in Australia. Four singles were released from the album — "Pick You Up", "D.A.F.", "Living Type" and "Take Me In". "Take Me In" was released as a video-single featuring several other music videos by the group. Double Allergic debuted at #7 on the Australian charts and remained in the top 20 for seven weeks. A reviewer for FasterLouder, a music review web site, commented that "when Double Allergic was released in 1996, it showed the band were here for the long haul to become arguably one of the best of the decade.
The band received much praise and criticism for their political views on several tracks on Internationalist. In an interview with Benedict Watts, guitarist Ian Haug said that the political messages in "The Day You Come" were not something they were just preaching about, but rather were something they saw as a responsibility.
Powderfinger's fourth studio album, Odyssey Number Five, was released in September 2000, shortly after they were asked to write songs for the soundtracks of two films; Two Hands and Mission: Impossible II. The song "These Days" was written for Two Hands and "My Kind of Scene" was written for Mission: Impossible II. Odyssey Number Five was Powderfinger's most successful album to-date, selling 560,000 copies. "My Kind of Scene" was also released as a single from the album, as were "My Happiness", "Like a Dog", "The Metre", and "Waiting for the Sun". Odyssey Number Five won "Album of the Year", "Highest Selling Album", "Best Rock Album", "Best Cover Art", and "Best Group" at the ARIA Awards in 2001. "My Happiness" was also awarded "Single of the Year", and other songs were nominated for ARIA Awards in various other categories.
Many songs from this era of Powderfinger were ranked on Triple J's Hottest 100 list. "These Days", "Already Gone", "Good-Day Ray", and "Passenger" were ranked in 1999, and "My Happiness" and "My Kind of Scene" in 2000.
Vulture Street was released on 4 July 2003. The album, recorded in January and February 2003, was named after a street in Woolloongabba, Queensland, which was the location of the band's first recording room. The album was described by critics as "a rawer, louder, but by no means unrefined, album", and that it featured guitarists Middleton and Haug dominating in a way they had not since their 1994 debut. Simon Evans of musicOMH.com described the band as having "opted for a visceral live feel, adding a real punch to songs".
"(Baby I've Got You) On My Mind", "Since You've Been Gone", "Love Your Way", and "Sunsets" from Vulture Street were released as singles. Like earlier Powderfinger albums, Vulture Street won several ARIA Awards. It won "Album of the Year", "Best Group", "Best Rock Album" and "Best Cover Art" in 2003. Several songs on the album were also nominated for awards in 2003 and 2004.
These Days: Live in Concert was the first live release by Powderfinger. Both the CD and DVD versions were released in late-2004. One single,"Stumblin'" a song which originally appeared on Vulture Street as a normal track, was also released from the album. Powderfinger released a "best of" album entitled Fingerprints: The Best of Powderfinger, 1994-2000 a few weeks later. It included many of the band's singles to-date as well as non-singles "Thrilloilogy" and "Belter" and a re-release of "These Days". "These Days", although never officially released as a single, was ranked at #1 on the Triple J Hottest 100 poll of 1999. The album also included two new songs; "Bless My Soul" and "Process This", although only "Bless My Soul" was released as a single.
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Powderfinger appeared at the WaveAid fund raising concert in Sydney, to raise funds for aid organisations working in the disaster affected areas. Fanning sang for The Wrights when they performed "Evie" at the concert and released a studio version of the song as a single, with the proceeds from the sale also going to tsunami relief efforts.
Middleton and his side project Drag released their debut album, a follow-up to their 2002 EP Gas Food Lodging. The album, titled The Way Out, was released on 10 July 2005. Shortly after this, guitarist Ian Haug and bassist John Collins formed the group The Predators with Powderfinger's former drummer, Steven Bishop, on drums and lead vocals. The group released a six-track EP, Pick Up the Pace, in 2005 and performed a short tour around Australia.
Bernard Fanning released his solo album, Tea & Sympathy, in October 2005, reaching the top of the Australian charts and earning Fanning numerous ARIA Music Awards, including the coveted award for "Album of the Year". The lead single from album, "Wish You Well", was ranked at #1 on the Triple J Hottest 100 poll in 2005.
Powderfinger's sixth studio album, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence was released on 2 June 2007. Debuting at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart, it broke the Australian digital sales record, with over 3000 copies sold online. Reviewers, however, did not rate it as highly as its predecessor, Vulture Street, with Cameron Adams of the Herald Sun HiT describing it as "consistent." Bernard Zuel, who reviewed Vulture Street in 2003, described Dream Days at the Hotel Existence as "Powderfinger's first dull album", but the band as "the biggest rock band in the country."
On 12 June, 2007, Powderfinger and Australian rock group Silverchair announced a nine-week tour titled Across the Great Divide tour, an effort to promote reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. The tour appeared in all state capital cities and fourteen regional centres across Australia, and included four performances in New Zealand. The first single from the album, "Lost and Running", was released on 12 May, 2007, and reached #5 on the ARIA Singles Chart on 21 May, 2007. A second single, "I Don't Remember", was released on 4 August, 2007. A song from the album, "Black Tears", was amended following concerns that it could prejudice a trial over the 2004 Palm Island death in custody case. Bernard Fanning said in a statement that an alternative version of the song would now be featured on the album as a result of the claims.
Dream Days at the Hotel Existence was the recipient of the ARIA Award for "Best Cover Art" in 2007. It was nominated for "Album of the Year", "Best Rock Album" and "Best Group", while "Lost and Running" received nominations for "Single of the Year" and "Best Video". The album failed to win any of the awards it was nominations for, losing to Silverchair, who won all five awards they were nominated for. The awards were announced at the Acer Arena in Sydney on 28 October, and Powderfinger performed their single "Lost and Running".
On 18 August 2007, Powderfinger performed a concert in Karratha, Western Australia, to thousands of fans as part of Triple J's AWOL Series. The band were accompanied by performances from Australian bands The Grates and Muph N Plutonic and other local acts. While in Karratha, Fanning and Coghill visited Gumala Mirnuwarni, a local school in Roebourne that encourages children to stay in school. On 27 September 2008, Powderfinger performed "(Baby I've Got You) On My Mind" and AC/DC's "Long Way to the Top" at the AFL Grand Final.
Bernard Zuel of The Sydney Morning Herald reviewed both of Powderfinger's more recent albums. Describing Vulture Street as "a rawer, louder" album in comparison to Odyssey Number Five, Zuel highlighted Fanning's "talent as a lyricist" and stated that it featured guitarists Haug and Middleton "dominating in a way they haven't since their 1994 debut." Zuel stated that there is a "real energy here that has some connections to early Powderfinger," and described "On My Mind" as having "AC/DC meatiness", and "Love Your Way" as "acoustic tumbling into weaving Zeppelin lines."
In his review of Dream Days at the Hotel Existence, Zuel described it as "[having] high-gloss and muscular framework," and stated that that was what "American radio considers serious rock."
Clayton Bolger of Allmusic stated in his review of Dream Days at the Hotel Existence that Powderfinger "largely revisit the sound of their Internationalist album, leaving behind much of the glam and swagger of 2003's Vulture Street." He commented on Fanning's "commanding and distinctive vocals," the "twin-guitar attack" of Middleton and Haug, Collins' "innovative basslines," and the "powerhouse drum work" of Coghill.
In 1996, Crowded House decided to break up, and organised a farewell concert as a charity event for the Sydney Children's Hospital, to be held on 24 November 1996. They approached Powderfinger and Australian acts Custard and You Am I to contribute by appearing in the concert to be held on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. The concert, which was recorded and later released as a live album titled Farewell to the World, was believed to be the largest Australian live concert, with estimates of between 100,000 and 250,000 people in attendance.
In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, also known as the "Boxing Day Tsunami", Powderfinger performed at the WaveAid fund-raising concert in Sydney in January 2005. The disaster killed more than 225,000 people from 11 countries in the area. The total profit from the funds raised from ticket sales and donations was AUD$2,300,000.
The song "Black Tears" from the album Dream Days at the Hotel Existence featured the lyric An island watchhouse bed, a black man's lying dead which sparked fears that it might prejudice the trial of the former Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the 2004 Palm Island death in custody case. The band claimed that the lyrics were primarily based on the climbing of Uluru by tourists despite requests from the Indigenous people of the area to not do so. The original version of the song was retracted from the album, and replaced with an alternate version with the criticised material removed.
The legal team for Hurley, who was charged with manslaughter over the death of Mulrunji in 2004, referred the song to the Attorney-General of Queensland Kerry Shine in their attempt at altering the track. Lawyer Glen Cranny stated that "the content and proposed timing of the song's release raises some serious concerns regarding Mr Hurley's trial." Powderfinger's band manager, Paul Piticco, stated that Fanning had confirmed that the song was related to the case. However, he added that the lyric in question could refer to "a watchhouse in The Bahamas or something."
In June 2007, Powderfinger announced a nationwide tour featuring Australian rock band Silverchair titled the Across the Great Divide tour. The tour was an attempt to promote the efforts of Reconciliation Australia, a foundation helping to improve the welfare of the Indigenous people of Australia and to "show [that] both bands are behind the idea of reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia aims to promote awareness of the 17-year difference in life expectancy between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous children of Australia.
The Across the Great Divide tour, which included 34 concerts in 26 towns across Australia, lasted over two months with an estimated 220,000 people in attendance. Powderfinger and Silverchair announced the release of a limited edition tour DVD, featuring two Melbourne concerts and a 90-minute documentary following both bands during each concert. The DVD was released on 1 December 2007, and shared its release date with that of the third single from Dream Days at the Hotel Existence, "Nobody Sees".
In October 2007, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Powderfinger performed at a concert on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. The concert was for invitees only — only breast cancer patients and survivors and their families were eligible to attend. Powderfinger performed alongside Silverchair, Missy Higgins, and other artists to an audience of 700. The concert was filmed and later broadcast as a MAX Session on Foxtel channel MAX on 3 November.
Powderfinger consists of five members: vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and harmonicist Bernard Fanning, bass guitarist John Collins, guitarist and backing vocalist Ian Haug, guitarist, keyboardist and backing vocalist Darren Middleton, and drummer and percussionist Jon Coghill. This has remained the lineup of the band since 1992. Steven Bishop had been the group's drummer before this, but had left wanting to focus on his studies. The band often refers to one another with partial pseudonyms. Most notably John Collins and Jon Coghill, presumably to avoid confusion, are referred to as JC and Cogsy respectively.
Powderfinger have collaborated with few artists, but have had pianist Benmont Tench play on Dream Days at the Hotel Existence. For their second album, Double Allergic, the group enlisted producer Tim Whitten. Powderfinger approached American expatriate Nick DiDia as their producer for Internationalist, and recorded with him at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne. DiDia also produced the following two albums. In 2007 Rob Schnapf, producer for Beck, was asked to produce their sixth studio album in Los Angeles.
Powderfinger's first music video for the song "Reap What You Sow" in 1993 was directed by David Barker, an award-winning director. Film companies who directed other videos of the group include Fifty Fifty Films, and Head Pictures.
Powderfinger is highly successful in the Australian recording industry, being a recipient of the industry's flagship awards, the ARIA Music Awards, fifteen times. "These Days" and "My Happiness" were ranked #1 on the Triple J Hottest 100 list in 1999 and 2000 respectively, and 21 other Powderfinger tracks have ranked on the list in other years.