Freak-pop parts


Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

October 29

ÚMBRIEL is an electronic, art-pop quartet whose show occupies a niche position in the Queensland Cabaret Festival and Metro Arts’ Cabaret Long Weekend. Indeed, the nuanced artistic work may not be to more mainstream audience members liking. However, given the fan following obviously out in force, it hardly seems to matter.

The captivating ritualistic aesthetic experience begins from pre-show entry in the visually immersive space of the New Benner Theatre. From a Gothically-glad lead vocalist (James Halloran, whose musical persona is ÚMBRIEL) collapsed afront the projected image of a single wilting flower, things chant into a dreamy music experience. After a slow build comes release of beats and guttural belt of industrial rock with English alternative rock musician PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’. The music is like a thumping intoxication into the intimate musical backdrop upon which the vocals rest. Indeed, sweeping instrumentals only add to the drama of the orchestral theatricality.

The 2020 single ‘Desire’ is made all the more emotionally enchanting through its melodic sweeps and percussive pounds. It also allows for show of the softer side of Halloran’s versatile vocals. From fluid soar to fragmented jaggedness, they shape each song with appropriate emotions of yearning, lust or anger. However, with little at-mic punctuation of the setlist, there is no opportunity for uninitiated audience members to connect with the flamboyant performance. Similarly, while there is a certainly an appeal to lyrically descriptive phrases such as “he drinks my moans and drowns me deep”, the layer of hyperbolically metaphors upon each other makes it difficult to find light and shade moments in which to rest and reflect.

Many musical influences are evident at different times across every part of the setlist, from Nick Cave and Kate Bush to Stevie Nicks, Tori Amos and even some New Romantic sounds of pathos, such as in ‘Renegade’. And, through them, ÚMBRIEL provides audiences with a more ritualistic offering than the typical cabaret fare. The part-rock show part-ritual cabaret is an acquired freak-pop (as is its trademark) taste and while the show is perhaps mesmerising more than arresting in its melodies, the fan-base audience celebrates every piece of its sonic artistry.

Hedwigging out

Hedwig 15 (Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Queer Film Festival and Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 28

Sometimes it takes seeing a movie on big screen to truly appreciate its greatness. And “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a great movie, iconic in its incredible tell of an ‘internationally ignored’ rocker from communist East Berlin who sings about his manhood being cut off in a messy operation, hence the title of both the film and the  band of Eastern-bloc musicians with whom Hansel, now Hedwig, tours the pit stops of America. Its screening and concert performance, “Hedwig 15” (in gala celebration of its 15th anniversary) as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival celebration of queer arts and culture is reminder not only of its hilarity, but its soundtrack of explosive glam/punk sensibility.

Regardless of the still-light-outside starting time, sisters, brothers, misfits and all the others unite in celebration of the immortal white trash style icon with some even dressing in homage to the genderqueer singer. Certainly this is a unique event, complete with packets of gummy bears (in nod to American sugar-daddy soldier Luther’s enticement) placed about the stalls, a bar within the theatre and encouragement for audience members to move about during the show.


And then, before the film’s credits have even finished rolling, the concert section of the show belts into being with Bertie Page’s take on ‘Tear Me Down’, which opens the soundtrack and sets the scene for Hedwig’s journey, starting as a slip of a girlyboy behind the Berlin Wall. Sando Colarelli too, brings a brazen rock energy to the liberating anthem ‘Angry Inch’, recreating the song’s vocals and later capturing the film’s essence of rock excess in a soon-to-be-torn-off chrysalis-like costume of plastic sheeting.


The soundtrack alternates rock ballads and reminiscences as Hedwig searches for completion and a fully realised sense of self on road to becoming an ‘internationally ignored song stylist’ and things slow down to the more melodic during ‘Wig in a Box’, arguably the film’s musical pinnacle, during which Josh Daveta sings of Hedwig’s comfort in the transforming power of wigs, make-up and rock music with masterful vocals. Lucinda Shaw, too, brings impressive vocal energy and emotional resonance to the fiercely determined ‘The Origin of Love’ and its deeply tender explanation of the desperate desire to become whole and connected with other humans. And her share of the soundtrack’s anthemic reconciliatory final song, ‘Midnight Radio’, is simply sublime in its toast to world’s enigmatic souls and the power of being our authentic selves.


The show’s killer soundtrack is skilfully supported by an all-star band led by James Lees with Shiv Zimmermann, John Meyer, Kevin Haigh and Parmis Rose, which allows each performer to bring their own artistry and embodiment of Hedwig’s characteristics to their selections. James Halloran, for example, is emotionally vulnerable in ‘The Long Grift’, a song that didn’t make the movie cut in its entirety but is a worthy inclusion for its highlight of how, during Hedwig’s vendetta against former partner Tommy, she becomes blinded to the feelings of the loved ones around her.

In the hands of Electric Moon, it is easy to see why this soundtrack has gained such a cult-status since its humble beginnings as a stage musical before movie. With only a ten song setlist, the ‘In Concert’ section of the show is over way too soon, much like Electric Moon’s last, “Ziggy Stardust”, outing. Still, its essential, sincere themes linger past its punk sensibilities with message about the hope of turning misfortune into personal power and celebration of the unique.

“Hedwig 15” like its namesake inspiration is rich in imagination and daring. The songs are explosive in their exploration of the ideas of ideology, love and destiny and they are delivered with the raw power and emotion required to have audience members on their feet Hedwigging-out in dance and sway with abandon at just 8pm, in mutual celebration of fact that we all either are or can be Hedwig.