Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seven Songs To Leave Behind, 2010: (review)

Starring: Sinead O'Connor, John Cale, Me'Shell N'Degeocello, Rickie-Lee Jones, Dan Sultan and The Black Arm Band. 

Venue: The Myer Music Bowl 

Tonight the Sidney Myer Music Bowl hosted the finest example of a tribute show possibly ever offered. Several of the world's greatest performers came together for a single mission; to pay respects to some of the world's greatest songs and writers. Prince, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Paul Simon and eh, Coolio among others made the lists that the stars of this event hold in highest regard. Categorically, each artist chose seven songs that had impacted on their lives in different ways – plus one compulsory Leonard Cohen cover. The head-spinning mesh of legendary singers and some of music's all-time greatest songs was an overwhelming proposition bought to life by the Melbourne International Arts Festival organisers for an unbeatable finale to their 2010 festivities.

The embarrassment of international talent on display is barely even the beginning of what Seven Songs To Leave Behind had to offer. Most performances tonight are backed by Orchestra Victoria and propped up further by the Black Arm Band Indigenous vocal group, whose contributions to the songs cannot be understated. The inevitable all-in finale feels a long way off as the first performance of the night - Gurrumul Yunupingu absolutely slaying The Surfaris' Wipeout - greets the jam-packed arena. He opens the first bracket of the song categories – the tunes to share – which is continued by the deadly combination of Me'Shell N'Degeocello's voice, bass playing and a lost Prince classic (Pop Life). Providing extra value for her fans, N'Degeocello is rarely off stage tonight as she, quite wonderfully, plays along with many of her co-stars.

Certainly Sinead O'Connor is a huge drawcard here tonight as she's not prone to touring and when ever she does get on a stage, it's usually memorable for reason other than just her singing. The crowd weren't to be disappointed on either front. O'Connor is a woman of many contradictions, and as she bounds on stage in a slinky, sequined dress, tribal jewellery and with bare biker-tattooed arms, it feels like just about anything could happen. Still, I doubt anybody could've predicted L7's Shitlist as her 'song-to-share' or how easily how she blew the place apart with it. Truly great artists can always sing outside of their zones, but seeing Sinead perform this feisty grunge classic, it's clear her zone is almost boundless.

The rest of her covers set later tonight feels closest of all the acts to the artist's heart. Sinead's versions Bob Marley's Natty Ride and Bob Dylan's Serve Somebody are played with such conviction, they're akin to peeking into her private diary. The self-penned section of her catalogue was Catholic-baiting new song, Take Off Your Shoes, and in true Sinead style, was preceded by a speech in which "The Vatican" subtly became "The Vaticunt"! Much like Basil Fawlty, there's enough material there for an entire conference, but O'Connor had some serious rivals for moment-of-the-night, and Rickie-Lee Jones just may have shone the brightest overall.

Jones took the crowd on the wildest ride in respect to her song choices, starting with the gorgeous Sailor Song, before pulling out surprise number one. It was announced at the start of the night Archie Roach had to cancel after suffering a stroke, but Rickie had decided we deserved to hear our beloved Archie none-the-less. Thanks to the smart cookie who recorded all of tonight's rehearsal sessions, an especially moving Jones/Roach duet on Somewhere from West Side Story, was made possible. It was both pure magic, and a dose of 'ball's-in-your-court' to everyone else from Jones. But nothing drives a touching song home more than when it's followed up with some levity, and Jones knew a great what-the-fuck moment is exactly what we needed. Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise apparently serves as her 'song-to-covet' and, complete with orchestral backing and a black beanie, she absolutely pulls it off. Sorry, other legendary artists, but nothing beats a rapping granny.

Dan Sultan and the Black Arm Band bring some local flair back with Sultan generously performing Cohen's If It Be Your Will above the seated section especially for the thousands huddled on the hill. The John Cale set also bought a slew of musical thrills, as if anything else has dominated this jaw-dropping event. His band brought the first rush of rock to the proceedings, working through Cale gems Dirty Ass Rock N' Roll, Pablo Picasso (Never Got Called An Asshole) and Letter From Abroad. The lack of covers in his own set says a lot about the man's musical status as a 'coveted songwriter' in his own stead, yet it's his version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah - the only possible choice for the finale - that brings the house down. Cale is naturally joined by tonight's complete line-up following each acts final song to leave behind – the one that paved the road for them. Many had waited for this moment, so when Sinead O'Connor at last delivered Nothing Compares 2 U it was simply heart-stopping.

No one act could claim absolute dominance over the night's unrelenting pleasures. This was more a celebration of those freakish songs that have power beyond even the greatest conduits. Every one of them was delivered with care and passion as though they were fragile artefacts being put on display. One by one the pinch-yourself moments piled up as we were privy to never-to-be-repeated collaborations, seasoned artists throwing caution out of the window and total setlist heaven. Monster tours will continue to come and go in Melbourne and the Arts Festival organisers probably have something equally impressive up their sleeves for next year, but Seven Songs is the one they'll still being talking about years from now.



Wipeout – Gurrumul Yunupingu  
Djarrimirri – Gurrumul Yunupingu  
Pop Life – Meshell Ndegeocello  
Shitlist – Sinead O'Connor  
The Moon Is Made of Gold – Rickie Lee Jones  
Heartbreak Hotel – John Cale  

The Sloganeer – Meshell Ndegeocello  
Chelsea Hotel #2 – Meshell Ndegeocello  
Lola – Meshell Ndegeocello
Look Around
– Meshell Ndegeocello  

Crying in Your Beer – Meshell Ndegeocello
If It Be Your Will – The Black Arm Band  
Old Fitzroy – Dan Sultan 
Boy In The Bubble – The Black Arm Band 
Bapa – Gurrumul Yunupingu  

Company – Rickie Lee Jones 
Sailor Song – Rickie Lee Jones
Somewhere – Rickie Lee Jones & Archie Roach 

Gangsta's Paradise – Rickie Lee Jones 
One of Us Cannot Be Wrong
– Rickie Lee Jones 

Letter From Abroad – John Cale  
Dirty Ass Rock N Roll – John Cale  
Magritte – John Cale  
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend – John Cale 
Pablo Picasso – John Cale 

Fool For You – Sinead O'Connor  
Psalm 33 – Sinead O'Connor 
Natty Ride – Sinead O'Connor  
Serve Somebody – Sinead O'Connor  
Tower of Song – Sinead O'Connor 
Take Off Your Shoes – Sinead O'Connor  

War – Meshell Ndegeocello  
Bayani – Gurrumul Yunupingu  
Swept Away – Shellie Morris  
Last Chance Texaco – Rickie Lee Jones  
Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O'Connor  
Hallelujah – John Cale with the full line-up

 Sinead O'Connor Shitlist live from Seven Songs

photos by me.

1 comment:

  1. Great event - great review. Thanks for reminding me of all the fabulous highlights of the night - even from way up the back.