Mama Earth mashups

Hot Mess Mama (Emma Dean/Katherine Lyall-Watson)

The Tivoli

September 17 – 18

Mama Earth was once a legend, worshipped by groups like the Aztecs and Druids, back in precented time when people could gather together. Now she’s playing in a converted old bakery in Brisbane as part of the Tivoli’s Brisbane Festival line-up. The world premiere of the cabaret show of the same name from Emma Dean and Katherine Lyall-Watson sees Mama Earth (multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Emma Dean) showing us what a hot mess diva she has become, dishevelled in the pollution of a trashy plastic bag ball gown.

With consideration of where our rubbish goes cued, we are guided into ‘Girl on Fire’ inset with ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and then ‘Firework’, because musically, “Hot Mess Mama” is very clever its balanced combination of an original score with songs that have been mashed up with well-known pop hits courtesy of lyrical linkage. And the stylistic combinations are quite marvellous, embracing their possibilities to full extent, especially when Dean transitions into Alanis Morissette’s jagged, angsty anthem ‘You Oughta Know’, vocally and on guitar. It’s no wonder Mama Earth drinks like a party girl. And there is certainly a revelry to the show’s early segments, as before she hits reset, she determines to party like it’s 1999 (alas without any Prince song salute), with humanity as a backing band (Mark Angel on guitar, Lucas Clarke on violin and mandolin, Tony Dean on drums, Terry Dixon on bass guitar and Tnee Dyer on keys).

While the show conveys a clearly defined view, articulated from the intersection of music and theatre, it feels underdone by a couple of songs and there are clear spaces into which it can be filled with further improvement. Still, it is carefully curated to examine the serious issue of climate change in a fun way that also leaves us feeling hopeful that the world can recover and strengthen and that we can do it if we work together, like in the show’s call and response number. Like so many of Emma Dean’s recordings, the human spirit remains at the thematic centre of everything, which is the show’s greatest joy.

Dean is a passionate performer with a powerful set of pipes. And the harmonies heard in some of the show’s numbers are simply exquisite. It’s not the serious stuff that might be expected of a show about the environment either, thanks to the quirk of its original concept, energy of its leading lady and the little touch of one-liner humourous interjections from keyboardist extraordinaire Tnee Dyer.

Dean is clearly also a very versatile performer. Her pre-interval set as herself before Mama Earth graces us with her presence (accompanied by Lucas Clarke and Tony Dean), allows Dean to showcase this as she takes the audience from the glitter kittenesque ‘I Am A F*%king Unicorn’ and euphoria of Florence and the Machine’s ‘You’ve Got The Love’ to the beauty of the melodic contemplation ‘Healed by You’ and touching ballad ‘Orange Red’, complete with stirring string accompaniment. Regardless of its base genre, however, every song showcases her astonishing vocals, which mean that audience members are in for a treat.

Very much a festival show, “Hot Mess Mama” is a dynamic, left-of-centre cabaret reminder of the possibility of change. Its unique fusion of styles and sensibilities finds the theatre in music and makes it an infectious experience (#inagoodway), especially for a supportive audience of theatre-goers happy to be able to gather together again in spirit-lifting celebration of all things Brisfest.

Photos c/o – Atmosphere Photography

Never enough Emma

Emma Dean in Concert

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

December 3

Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Emma Dean is a consummate performer, having released many original albums/eps. And original is perhaps the best way to describe her style: quirky, intriguing and always exquisite in its realisation. Indeed, from the moment her In Concert show at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland Festival begins with Richard Grantham’s evocative violin sounds, set against the Visy Theatre’s moody blue and purple lighting, it is clear that the exploration of life, love and loss is going to be a work of art.

Emma Dean is nothing if not eclectic, with a distinctive, sometimes Kate Bush-like sound on show in all sorts of musical genres throughout the hour long concert. From the hillbilly-like ‘Water Fountain’ by The Tune-Yards, a song built before audience eyes to the upbeat, rockier ‘Fire In My Belly’ about loving from a distance and the touching country ballad sounds of ‘Orange Red’, every song is as memorable as it is unique.

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The highlight, however, comes courtesy of a stripped back take of Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’, featuring performer/choreographer Jamie Kendall in dance accompaniment. When Dean is joined in voice by a secret flash mob (members of the Cheep Trill community choir), it is an unforgettably special moment of pure beauty to the point of joyful tears.

Back on piano, Dean soon journeys audiences from the story of sabotage to some similarly dark places courtesy of the catchy ‘Little Succubus’, about a night demon who steals the brains of pious men in their sleep, performed with musical accompaniment from her brother Tony Dean. Regardless of content and themes, however, her original songs all showcase honest lyrics and addictive sounds. Her powerful voice is striking, particularly in its high vocal register, making for some sublime moments. Despite being a sold-out show, the intimate venue allows for display of plenty of personality in vocals, musicality and between song storytelling, which is charismatic and engaging in that never-enough type way.

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Emma Dean’s impressive vocals certainly suit the layered tunes, bewitching the room alone before addition of her violin, keyboard and piano musicianship as a stunning treat to the senses. Any chance to see the versatile, multi-talented musician should not be missed, especially when supported by the incredible musical talents of Tony Dean and Richard Grantham.


Musical excellence aside, the show also brings with it an essential message of empowerment, encapsulated in a quote she shares from Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” It is a fitting reflection with which to leave audiences at this special gig as she takes some time off to write for a new project.

Photos c/o – kd photography