Sunshine state sounds

Sunshine Sounds

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 29

After the year that has been, everyone is in need of some sunshine and succour to their soul so the return to the magic of live music with Brisbane Powerhouse’s “Sunshine Sounds” is a particularly welcome Sunday afternoon session. The show, which features renowned artists Katie Noonan, Louise King and Andrea Kirwin in concert, represents the last in the performers’ mini tour and a wonderful opportunity for Brisbane audiences to share in their stories of music and friendship.

Every singer songwriter has a coronavirus song, Fijian Australian soul songsmith Andrea Kirwin safely assumes before sharing her own ‘We Shall Overcome’, assurance that the sun will come shining through. Topical as its content may be, its realisation appears typical of the independent artist’s heartfelt folk and blues-style musical stories. Indeed, the prolific festival performer has an earthy sound that sees her soulful sounds soothing us into the afternoon with the show’s over-all-too-soon opener ‘Young Wild and Free’.

Kirwin has a warm stage presence and a compelling calm that charms the audience through between-song festival stories and reflections about her artform. When she shares her take of Tracey Chapman’ ‘Give Me One Reason’, however, the distinctive guitar melody is base to both initially gentle verse and a growing daring and defiant energy. Her versatility is further evident when she is joined on stage by internationally renowned cellist Louise King for an inspiring ‘Bloom’, the title track of Kirwin’s new album and emotionally-captivating ‘Love Will Save the Day’ tribute to Brisbane Pride and the belief that love can find a way.

Continuing the coronavirus theme, five-times ARIA Award winning and seven-times platinum selling singer/songwriter Katie Noonan talks about the disempowerment of hotel quarantine in introduction to her new number ‘Golden Light’ and its reflection of the gift of gratitude that this year has provided. And its repeated ‘let me adore you again’ tribute to her husband is spine-tingling in the exquisiteness of her vocal range and intonation.

Amongst original numbers, Noonan takes us back to the early 90s courtesy of an independent feminist Brisbane folk band Isis number and also applies her opera-like vocals to another suitable COVID-19 tune, Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, albeit paired back to be presented as an emotional piano ballad of heartbreaking longing to break free from loneliness and isolation, in call-back to her recent Brisbane Festival show, “The Sweetest Taboo”.

King has also used COVID-19 time to work on her craft, the contemporary classical musician tells us, before bringing the beauty and diversity of music written for cello to our ears. The biggest surprise is not the instrument’s beauty, however, but King’s illustration of its remarkable vitality and versatility through soothing laments, blue grass sentiment and First Nations’ sounds alike.

Though the Queensland women all have their own distinct sets, time is also included to celebrate the very up-and-coming talent of 11-year-old Layla Barnett who wows the audience with a beautifully serene delivery of Noonan’s former band George’s debut single, ‘Special Ones’. It really is an afternoon of celebration appropriately surmised in a final collaborative ‘I Am Woman’ affirmation and tribute to Helen Reddy. So, thanks to funding as part of the Queensland Government’s Arts and Cultural Recovery Package, the production not only allows three acclaimed performers to share their talent, but introduces us to that of an outstanding young newcomer.

Sweet ’80s sounds

The Sweetest Taboo (Katie Noonan)

The Tivoli

September 19 – 20

Like our first kiss or heartbreak, we all remember the first albums we bought with our own money. Maybe they were something reflectively cringy or perhaps, like Katie Noonan, they were purchased from somewhere cool like Rocking Horse Records in Adelaide Street. Returning to her beloved genre of jazz, Noonan presents this as the organising centre of her show “The Sweetest Taboo”, in which reinterpretations of classic ‘80s songs that shaped her life are presented with her band (Zac Hurren on saxophone, Aaron Jansz on drums and brothers OJ and Steve Newcome on double bass and piano respectively) in a manner that carefully curates the show’s numbers to new life.

From A-ha clip astonishment to hairbrush Queen Cyndi Lauper singalongs, there is much with which audiences of a certain vintage can identify as Noonan anecdotes about the music that has accompanied her journey from opera to jazz, even if it sometimes takes a few moments for gasps of recognition to ripple through the appreciative crowd. And even though some of her early musical heroes are a little unexpected with a set list that includes numbers from, for example, Crowded House, Vince Jones and U2, they somehow all smooth together in the sweetest of ways.

For those unfamiliar, the show takes the audience through the track listing of a new album of old songs, Noonan’s 20th studio album of the same name, which offers interpretation of pop favourites from the Aria Award winning performers formative years. Stripped back readings allow her astonishing voice the centre stage it demands. From the opening strands of a serene and sensitive ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, the extraordinary beauty of her vocal instrument is undeniable and the time she takes to allow every note to linger, leaves us in no question as to the rarity of her talent. And while numbers like Terrence Trent D’Arby’s soulful gem ‘Sign Your Name’ are stirring in their sultriness, upbeat ones like Icehouse’s ‘Electric Blue’, reimagined with a laid-back Latin flavour and the infectious melodic fun of Eurythmics’ ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ add much to the show’s texture. ‘

Noonan is a generous performer and audience experience is enhanced by her share of the stage with the other musicians. Every artist is given their moment to shine. Most notably, Steve Newcomb makes Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ an especially relevant emotional piano ballad of heartbreaking longing to break free from loneliness and isolation, while Zac Hurren’s saxophone beautifully completes Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are’, because what is an ‘80s show without a good slap of wailing saxophone solo?

What Katie Noonan has created in “The Sweetest Taboo” is a wonderful place where loving daggy ‘80s love songs and Man of Colours Iva Davies double leather no longer have to be a guilty secret. Stunning vocals and musical rearrangements make for moving reconnection with songs of an era whose music deserves celebration, appropriately now in a grown-up jazz way. More so though, the stripped back ‘80s pop hits have an emotional honesty to their lyrics that might otherwise be missed, so experience allows not only reconnection to our past selves but reconsideration of our own musical tapestries.

Wonderland walk

Fire Walk with Us (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 24

76176211_3508926052465720_6807027413264891904_o.jpg

There is a distinct feel to the “Twin Peaks” otherworld, captured in the aesthetic of The Powerhouse Theatre during the venue’s Wonderland Festival, despite the still-afternoon sunshine outside. The saturation of lighting creates an unsettling sense of warmth at odds with the constant menace lurking in the underbelly of what was a unique television experience, but it makes it all the easier to be enthralled into the intriguing journey that is Electric Moon’s “Fire Walk with Us” live re-imagining of songs and music from the iconic, instant-hit “Twin Peaks” mystery, horror, drama television series of early 1990s.

78467424_3508908545800804_3238222581735620608_o.jpg

As drowsy saxophone sounds lure the audience into the acclaimed score, the lush lighting captures the distinct mood of the show’s early numbers, despite a sometimes bothersome spotlight in audience eyes during Lucinda Shaw’s mesmeric ‘The World Spins’, in which she effortlessly channels the recognisable ‘low and slow’ signature Lynch sound texture in delivery of the spine-tingling memorable series number (it featured in a climactic second-season episode that revealed the killer of troubled prom queen Laura Palmer).

78426427_3508900122468313_6892567038493982720_o

The set list features a sampling of songs from the original iconic David Lynch series, the prequel film “Fire Walk with Me” and even an Alison St Ledger share of a Latin-infused ‘No Stars’ from the recent third series of the franchise, perfectly curated together in authentic album track listing sequence.

74483655_3508905552467770_6056572880055959552_o.jpg

Top-of-mind numbers like the soaring, airy ‘Nightingale’ and the signature theme song ‘Falling’ are there as highlights of floating, soft-focus, sweetly-serene vocals along with the spiralled frenzied jazz jams of the doomy ‘The Pink Room’ and the innocent sounds of ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’ (in juxtaposition to its deliciously dark lyrics).

74461744_3508910729133919_5797180825590038528_o.jpg

Indeed, it’s an eclectic mix of dream pop warbles and benchmark jazz bass lines and finger-snap rhythms, but it absolutely works in evoking the beauty, yearn, mystery and playfulness of everything “Twin Peaks”. ‘Just slow things down and it becomes more beautiful’, David Lynch once said and “Fire Walk with Us” is certainly testament to this in its evocation of many moods and a range of emotions.

78953230_3508894132468912_562238011052392448_o.jpg

A 12-piece ensemble of musicians works together to elevate experience of the Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch compositions to more than just backing for the four diverse vocalists Mia Goodwin, SS.Sebastian, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger, giving, for example, the surreal ‘Sycamore Trees’ an orchestral swell in sit against the song’s essential stillness. This means that whether part of the show’s devoted cult following or as a newcomer to the pop culture classic, there is much to be enticed by in the dreamy, dark, moody and emotional journey of the “Fire Walk with Us”. Its experience more than delivers on its promise to provide a masterclass in minimalist synthpop atmospheres, haunting vocals, occasionally off-kilter jazz stylings and sinister soundscapes.

Photos c/o – Jade Ellis Photography

007 sounds

The Music of James Bond

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 18

Ym3JQMiU.jpeg

“The Music of James Bond” begins, appropriately, with multi award-winning singer Kate Ceberano slinking onto the Concert Hall stage in a sparkling gown befitting her opening number, ‘Diamonds are Forever’. It is a look and belting sound very much suited to Shirley Bassey’s smash hit and with delivery of its tremendous expression, dramatic flair, soulful emotion and intrinsic glamour, the audience is easily assured as to the quality of the show to come. When Luke Kennedy appears to deliver a crisply crooned ‘From Russia with Love’ (stepping up from guest appearance role due to original performer Michael Falzon’s ill-health), the stage is well and truly set for an evening of entertainment in celebration of the spy film franchise’s music.

pEtuhNB0.jpeg

For over 50 years, the thrilling exploits of the world’s greatest spy have been accompanied by the world’s finest theme songs, making the night’s set-list a spoiled-for-choice scenario. With the full live symphonic sound of a 20-piece orchestra, every number is elevated in its experience, especially our revisit of the ubiquitous main signature James Bond theme, which allows for audience appreciation of how its instruments layer atop each other and especially of its percussive notes and the distinctive rhythm of its famous guitar riff.

As thorough as the Bond theme collection is, however, time is also taken to visit some other spies with a dynamic instrumental “Mission Impossible” theme, complete with rollicking urban samba sounds, and jaunty “The Spy Who Shagged Me” spoof theme song. Even Kate Ceberano’s own ‘Untouchable’, written with Paul Kelly, makes an appearance within the repertoire as her version of a Bond song.

The comprehensive catalogue of the Bond collection means that we hear the songs of a range of artists over the course of the evening… Gladys Night, Nancy Sinatra, KD Lang and Carly Simon, amongst others, and experience songs in a range of styles. From the light touch of Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love’ delivered in duet, complete with a little cha cha across the stage, to the bombastic rock of Paul McCartney’s epic ‘Live and Let Die’, orchestrations are a treat for the ear, aesthetically enhanced by gorgeous stage lighting.

z7NetqxA.jpeg

“The Music of James Bond” has all the ingredients for a superb, nostalgic celebration of an iconic film franchise, starting with its ‘quantum of soloists’, conducted by Mr 007 himself, the always charismatic Guy Noble, who bring the brilliant arrangements of the world’s finest theme songs to life. They add a light touch but also symphonic grandeur to Kennedy’s romantic ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and pair Ceberano’s powerful ‘Goldfinger’ with lush brassy orchestrations and horn sounds.

Zl0ebJts.jpeg

Ceberano is sensational. Her vocals are on-point, making for many standout moments, such as her ballad ‘Skyfall’, in which she succeeds in making abstract lyrics emotionally moving. Kennedy, too, delivers some tender moments in ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, although it is his Act Two opener, catchy ‘80s classic ‘A View to a Kill’ (the only Bond song to hit Number One of the charts) that serves as the real highlight, full of dancey fun and very Duran Duran.

With all of its components considered, “The Music of James Bond” cannot be anything but a joyous experience of shared celebration of timeless hits. Its only pity is its one night only programming.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

More Megan

Megan Hilty in Concert

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 20

megan-hilty-soh-1600x900-v2.jpg

Megan Hilty is a musical theatre person. She reminds the audience of this early on in her return to QPAC, this time in concert with Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra. Those familiar with the Tony Award-nominated songstress, however, need little reminder; the Broadway star rose to prominence with roles in musicals including “9 to 5: The Musical” and, before that, ‘a little show’ called “Wicked”. The big musical theatre set features some of her favourite songs as well as those from the shows she has done, punctuated by anecdotes about her experiences, including her four years doing “Wicked” and step-up to the role of Glinda the Good Witch the most powerful sorceress in L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz, at times alongside Idina Menzel as Elphaba. Her peppy ‘Popular’ is appropriately bubbly, but also a wonderful showcase for her comedic as well as singing talent, and it goes down a treat with the eager audience alongside a stirringly gorgeous, emotional ‘For Good’.

Hilty’s In Concert experience also features some non-Broadway songs, including songs from her debut solo album mix of original numbers and covers, “It Happens All the Time”. The paired back ‘Learning to Live Without You’ offers quiet contemplation with sparing piano accompaniment, however, Hilty is at her best when belting out numbers like the scorching, powerful set opener ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line’, from the musical-drama television show “Smash” about the creation of a fictitious new musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, in which she starred as tough Broadway veteran Ivy Lynn. Other “Smash” songs make appearance also in celebration of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s clever creations, including ‘Second Hand White Baby Grand’ based on a true story about Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with her mother, which also allows for showcase of some wonderful string sounds from Camerata.

The Chamber Orchestra is outstanding throughout the show, in light-touch numbers like ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and rousing big-bandish songs like ‘Get Happy’ alike. Indeed, the setlist not only suits Hilty’s versatility but also showcases the orchestra, from the early brass of an upbeat ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ to the wonderfully melodic tour through snippets of a range of familiar songs from “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Sound of Music” et al, when Hilty asks to be given chance to sing melody.

Megan Hilty is a generous performer, not just in her talk of the performers with whom she has shared the stage, but in acknowledgement of everyone involved in making the show happen. She is genuine, funny and real, authentically taking audience members along with her through a range of emotions to a final number that is moving as much for its backstory as its musical realisation.

“Megan Hilty in Concert” serves as a reminder that ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ that unfortunately at 80-minutes duration seems to be over all too soon. While we might be left wanting one or two songs more, the end of show ovation indicates that the audience is just as satisfied as when the star received a rock star reception in her first Brisbane show three years ago. Clearly, opera camp’s loss is most definitely the musical theatre world’s gain.

Tribute triumph

The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 24

61613968_10157597173848866_1403081969251647488_n.jpg

There is something very unique about experience of “The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston” and it is evident from even before the Belinda Davids show has started. The audience joined in anticipation of the honour of the most awarded female artist of all time is incredibly diverse, yet still united in a camaraderie that gives confidence to the expectation of a great night ahead. From the time the show opens with one of Houston’s most recognised songs, the booming ballad ‘Run to You’, from the hugely successful The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album, it is clear why the show has been critically acclaimed; the undeniably talented Davids brings Houston’s legacy to life in her spot on performance and out of this world vocals.

61474870_10157597173953866_8551772617869099008_n.jpg
“The Bodyguard” numbers feature throughout, building towards Houston’s signature song, ‘I will Always Love You’, brilliant from its restrained a cappella introduction and then beautifully melancholic in its gospel-infused dramatic development. The, as assumed, end of show number, confirms Davids’ impeccable vocal control in recreation of Houston’s astonishing voice and distinctive style. Her breathtaking vocals are also especially showcased in Houston’s early-career ballads such as ‘You Give Good Love’, ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ and ‘The Greatest Love of All’, resulting in a deserving pre-interval standing ovation. It is not long before we are on our feet again in acknowledgment of the soaring heartbreak of ‘I Have Nothing’, for not only is Davids’ recreation of Houston’s sound uncannily accurate, but her physical performance is perfectly nuanced down to the most minute of gestures.

62024949_10157597173798866_1915687643174141952_n

The show’s set list reflects the eclecticism of the Whitney Houston’s 30-year career catalogue of hits with an intertwined yet balanced repertoire of ballads and upbeat numbers alike. The energy, both on stage and in the audience, is infectious in fan-favourites ‘How Will I Know’, ‘I’m Every Woman, and ‘So Emotional’ and when it is time for ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ the audience needs little by way of invitation to rise to their feet to dance along in joyous celebration, following the high-energy lead of Davids’ talented choreographed dancers who are obviously skilled in a range of styles.

61771975_10157597173878866_1604202269677453312_n.jpg

Davids is also supported by backing vocalists and a live band, members of which are all given their own opportunities to shine, including most memorably on haunting saxophone in an emotionally vulnerable ‘Saving All My Love For You’, which serves as another of many highlights. And the other performers do well to occupy audience attention as Davids quick-changes into an array of fabulous costumes, sometimes as recreations of Houston’s iconic gowns.

61699821_10157597173828866_7868228821818802176_n.jpg

“The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston” is a wonderful two-hour homage to one of the world’s most revered singers. The all-aged affair makes the shared celebration of the music and legend of Whitney Houston especially engaging, with everyone in the audience joined together even at intermission in shared nostalgic song and dance off, a unique experience in QPAC’s Concert Hall that makes for an all the more memorable night.

This one-night-only celebration of the icon’s music and memory is not just for Whitney fans, but all music lovers in search of a genuinely heartwarming experience. Unlike other tribute shows, it doesn’t share detail of the artist’s life and career, instead focussing more on the music, which is precisely where Davids’ excellence lies and so what makes this tribute such a triumph.