Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Darebin Music Feast presents: Up Late With Kate: Celebrating the music of Kate Bush (live review)

Venue: Northcote Town Hall
Date: 22nd September 2012

Sitting somewhere between dreaded tribute show and cabaret performance – Darebin Music Feast's Up Late With Kate was at the very least Kate Bush fans only chance to experience their idol's hits in a live setting. Bush retired from touring 33 years ago, and seldom releases new music, yet her ability to fascinate and inspire musically has never waned. Over time, that reverence has translated as everything from bad cover versions to camp parodies, and while all done with a sense of admiration, have only served to highlight how hard it really is to ‘do Kate Bush’. This fact was surely in the minds of those guests brave enough to try and interpret the enigmatic singer's numerous classics tonight at Northcote Town Hall in a celebration of all things Bush.

The artists involved in tonight’s show come from all areas of music and stage, but are united geographically within the surrounding arts-rich Darebin electorate. The show’s MC, co-ordinator Benn Bennett, provides links between each artist, shares some Kate anecdotes and even awkwardly gives his own spin on a few of her songs. However, this attempt at taking on so many roles makes him hard to connect with and leaning more on his guests to carry the performance side of things would have boded well. The talent, after all, was phenomenal and every act rose to the challenge with genuine class. Jimmy Stewart's re-working of Cloudbusting in the style of Kim Salmon for instance, is proof early on that there's no guessing as to 'how' the artist's would approach their chosen song. Comedian Scott Edgar (of Tripod fame) takes on Hounds Of Love on solo electric guitar – which owes little to the original's template, yet lost nothing in his surprisingly tender re-telling. Though a tad more literal, Tina Del Twist, perfectly embodies a sad old character actor for Wow, as dictated by its lyric. Though creating the first truly grand moment of many is Sarah Ward, who's show-stopping This Woman's Work, is so true to the original, a near-sighted Kate Bush tragic would be pressed to pick it as a cover.

The real triumph of the night however belongs to Sat In Your Lap. Sung as a duet between Ward and Bennett with accompaniment on drums by a topless, horned female percussionist, the trio bring the song's nightmarish video to life right before us. The business end of the concert arrives following a quick interval in which fans flock to inspect the one prop on stage: the actual dress worn by Queen Kate in her Sensual World video, apparently procured for this event via Guy Pearce! (I didn't ask). As unpredictable as the first, the second act boasts accapella gems, In The Warm Room and Dream Of Sheep; an outstanding piano and vocal run through of The Man With The Child In His Eyes by an unfortunately staged Ali McGregor – her back is to the audience – and a smouldering Running Up That Hill by Rebecca Barnard. The finale, a fun, all-in sing-a-long of Bush's signature hit, Wuthering Heights is a hot mess, but nobody really cares as we all join in, howling through the chorus. The occasional amateurish bits in this mostly well-presented celebration are easily forgiven, with perhaps one exception. Benn Bennett's ill-advised Babooshka performance, in which he, while clad in a sarong nappy, slams an image of Kate into a rubbish bin full of broken glass for no apparent reason. The performers for the most part however treated the material well, keeping the camp comedy routine to a minimum and avoided falling into a Kate-karaoke situation, and overall put on a show worthy of such a rare talent.



Ran Tan Waltz
Under The Ivy
Army Dreamers
Mother Stands For Comfort
This Woman's Work
Sat In Your Lap
In The Warm Room
Kashka from Baghdad
And Dream Of Sheep
Hounds Of Love
The Man With The Child In His Eyes
Running Up That Hill
Wuthering Heights

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Joe McKee (Snowman) live in Melbourne, 2012

Venue: The Grace Darling
Date: August 11

After breaking away from the grand and ghoulish Snowman, former frontman Joe McKee has found a more subtle form of expression as a solo artist. While his old band expertly drew listeners in using suspense and tribal drumming as its main weapons of seduction, in his new incarnation, loops and well-pronounced vowels do all the work. As an environment, the Grace provides buckets of support for Joe’s Burning Boy solo album launch, which tonight is attended by a comfortable – for that sized room - number of punters. The stage, merely a foot off the floor, feels less like a forced focal point but rather just a place for Joe to stand. Casually he glides on and off his cramped quarters and through the crowd when the mood suits him in order to sidle up close to a fan as his looped guitar shimmys away, never out-ranking the deep, sombre vocal in volume.

In these kinds of intimate performances, it’s not unusual for my attention to wander and fixate on some insignificant prop or even the movement of the performer’s feet as they jab at guitar peddles, but McKee had me and everyone in my immediate view hanging on every note sung. Even when fronting the raucous Snowman though, Joe has always displayed an effortless ability to draw you in and make all else melt away.

This fact is helped by several well defined staples of McKee’s performance. Firstly, he mixes with his audience mid-song, while still retaining that important sense of intrigue. Secondly, his band – a drummer, violinist and keyboardist - hop on stage only sporadically to add accompaniment and thirdly, he sounds out every word he sings, imploring us to listen. As a solo artist, Joe has slipped into the role of story teller, but even more so, he is exploring the power of words as sounds.

He understands that a deep resonant voice, which he possesses, drawing out every syllable can be just as powerful as any percussive instrument, and hold as much sway as the words themselves. I find myself held up by a lyric early in the set; “You just keep getting louder, while I fall into lunacy” where McKee’s seductive tone shifts suddenly into spine-chilling terrain, and any chance of an easy ride ‘polite singer/songwriter’ type gig is lost. Thankfully.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about McKee’s show however is the complete lack of ceremony. Album launches are typically coupled with a sense of occasion, and maybe a ‘funny thing happened on the way to the studio’ story or two, but not this time. It’s as though McKee and his occasional backing band swept through the room on a wave and we all got caught up in it before being plopped back down again as it retreated out to sea. I left feeling as though I’d had my heart warmed and my bones chilled all at once. Pretty good result for a 45 minute set that featured all new, unknown material, I’d say. 


Joe signed my CD, "You have great taste in music!" So humble!