Year of Charts

I was asked to throw in my two cents about the top… things… of the year.  Even though I’m not a big fan of writing top tens, I had to write this anyway, so here it is.

Top Albums of 2012:

1 THE ROOTS Undun Def Jam Records
2 BON IVER Bon Iver Som Livre
3 BURIAL Street Halo/Kindred Beat Records
4 OLD CROW MEDECINE SHOW Carry Me Back Maple Music Recordings
6 GROUNDISLAVA Feel Me Friends of Friends
8 PATRICK WATSON Adventures in your own backyard Canada 3rd Party Distribution
9 MASSIVE ATTACK VS BURIAL Four Walls / Paradise Circus

Top Songs for 2012:

1 THE ROOTS Lighthouse
2 THE ROOTS The OtherSide
3 THE ROOTS One Time
4 BURIAL Kindred
5 BON IVER Calgary
7 GROUNDISLAVA Final Impasse

Top Gigs of 2012:

1 dEUS, Corner Hotel
2 STEVE REICH, Melbourne Recital Centre
3 BATHS, Brown Alley/Electric Owl
5 CAKE, Harvest Festival
6 SIGUR ROS, Harvest Festival
7 RADIOHEAD, Rod Laver Arena
8 BON IVER, Golden Plains
9 BEN FOLDS FIVE, Harvest Festival
10 PREFUSE 73, Brown Alley/Electric Owl

Of course I always panic doing these things so there’s probably plenty I’ve forgotten to write about.  But there it is.

Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey

Chet Baker was the ultimate screw up – with film star looks, the softest voice and crooning trumpet, he was meant to take over the world, but instead ended up defenestrated before he was sixty.  In Freeway cabaret star Tim Draxl has created a retrospective work, channeling Baker in every way except for the chaotic and destructive persona that crept behind him his whole life, the ultimate example in modern society’s struggle to look at the ongoing feud between genius and disaster.

And Chet Baker was a disaster, churning his way through addictions, prisons and women, leaving his figure at the age of 58 ravaged and ancient.  It’s understandable how hard it was for Draxl, with a stellar cabaret background and astounding four piece ensemble, to cover the whole story to a sympathetic and knowledgeable audience.  The addictions and fast cars (and the emphasis by Draxl, whether it is to make him more palatable or not, is on the fast cars) shapes the Chet Baker legacy. To me the problem of Baker is finding a way to reconcile the smoothness, the coolness of his jazz with his troubled life behind the scenes.

Which makes Draxl’s position so difficult; his performance is engaging and flawless, and that’s just the point.  When the lights change and he becomes Chet narrating his life, you can see that he, a seasoned cabaret performer, understands, connects, with so many parts of his life.  But when he is narrating Baker’s life to the audience, and sometimes even when he is singing, when Draxl is singing Baker almost note and sultry-perfect, when he is scored along with is amazing, seasoned backing band, even though you are enjoying yourself, part of you nostalgic for why you connected with Baker in the first place.  Though Draxl and his ensemble give a remarkable performance, and the recounting of his life is informative without being overwhelming, when watching Freeway, you do find yourself searching for the more definitive cracks, that made the light get in.

Freeway played played in the Fairfax Studio at The Arts Centre.

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Mikelangelo in The Nightingale of the Adriatic

Mikelangelo in The Nightingale of the Adriatic was a comfortable and intimate gig played out at the Butterfly Club in South Melbourne. This show, without his Black Sea Gentlemen, wasapparently created to suit venues such as thethirty seater of the Club, geared towards the more personal ballads of Mikelangelo, the songs that he has been fiddling with or playing to himself most recently, a salon-like performance where he encourages you to speak up and talk to him, banter, and of course laugh.

Mikelangelo is an accomplished musician who still knows his limits and his strengths. He also knows how to make an entrance, sauntering in with a moody tuneful whistle, only to later join himself on the piano, settling the audience into the very squishy venue.

The show was a chance for Mikelangelo to also talk about his family’s Croatian background, but there’s something about his storytelling that has a refreshingly hard edge to it, the nostalgia somewhat stripped down or at least deadened in his family’s tales of the old country. This becomes most obvious when Mikelangelo talks about his Aunts’ cooking, which was, he says, terrible. The traditional dishes prepared for him putting him off eating ever again.

One thing that Mikelangelo does enjoy talking about is his hair, and more specifically his favorite brand of pomade (Black Diamond if anyone is interested), launching into a nice little song The Continental Barber, the banter beforehand dotting that style of Barber all over the map of not only Melbourne but also parts of regional Australia.

The good thing about Mikelangelo is the joy that he takes in expressing melancholy, without some of the bling that other cabaret acts have. Sometimes the bands with gypsy/eastern European/alternative roots become a bit toopunk, rancid and intense, but Mikelangelo has a more gentlemanly air to him, inviting you to join him in his world, rather than forcing you to watch a display from the sideline.

And, what I always enjoy from watching his shows are the obvious obsessions that cannot help but shine through, hence the presence of one of the few Croatian cowboys songs you would have heard, or the Dean Martin tinge to many of his tunes. Mikelangelo is the type of performer who can do nothing but share his imagination with you, which is always well-coiffed fun.

Mikelangelo in The Nightingale of the Adriatic
The Butterfly Club
Season Closed

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The Hello Morning: Northcote Social Club

I’ve been reading too much Greil Marcus lately. A pretentious way to start a review, but there it is. He is not a writer to bandy about phrases, to use a scattergun approach to describing a band. His is about the essential element of a moment, whether, for him, it is the first crackling chords coming from a newly purchased record, or the moment in a performance where the band refine their purpose through one gesture, whether it is of aggression or wonder, its apex Johnny Rotten’s question to a San Francisco audience in ’78, just after quitting, or being fired from, the Sex Pistols, “Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”

I write this blather around my review of The Hello Morning because there’s not a lot to write. After watching the tail end of Downhills Home – a band that was also inoffensive, but not very interesting, its rhythm section wallowing in the background, the fate of many a band who can’t see beyond the instruments they use to write songs in their bedrooms on a Sunday afternoon – we nipped outside the Northcote Social Club for a breath of fresh air. When we came back the band room was packed with punters, who, as the band progressed, steadily slunk away into the main bar, outside, home, leaving the venue half full by the time we left at the end.

The Hello Morning were promising enough at the start, at least visually they were well put together, emanating the latest trend towards gothic western that you get more convincingly from bands like the Kill Devil Hills and Clinkerfield. But The Hello Morning’s sound tends more towards Calexico, Lambchop territory, but without the resolve towards musicianship that both these bands use as their primary weapon. Certainly guitarist John Citizen seemed more interested in checking out the front row of the crowd than communicating with the rest of the band. Exceptions to this bland instrumentation was the occasional solo releasing of John Cope on keys, and the bringing on of female vocalist Kimberly Johnson to harmonise on another track.

Lead singer Clifford Stevens’ physical styling as a Melbourne version of Chris Isaac didn’t pay off either, with his vocals buried in the mix. In fact the entire gig was a frustrating venture into moments where something could have been made out of the swathe of other musicians in the band, only to have them be put back in their box by the front man and his guitarist sidekick Citizen. To have a horn section that is only used two or three times in the gig seems like a waste of everyone’s time. Similarly there was a moment when the drummer seemed to leap out of the song with a mass of dynamic energy, only to fade away into the background again, not to reappear.

The biggest mistake that any band can make, and it’s a mistake that The Hello Morning has made, is that they think that the audience won’t know when it’s been cheated, that they will take part in the big lie that the band is trying to purport, that they will happily go to a gig if the hairdo is right. Not so. Despite the cynicism of Melbourne’s hipster infestation the crowd will still always know if a band is good or not, and the polite, middle-class, sneaking away of a visible percentage of the audience last night is a review in itself.

The Hello Morning played the Northcote Social Club with Downhills Home and Joe Neptune.

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