Blue by coup

Katie Noonan – Joni Mitchell’s Blue 50th Anniversary

QPAC, Concert Hall

May 8

Trailblazing Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is an incredible musical artist, arguably unparalleled in her musical genius. Few can replicate her husky but sweet sound, however, thankfully for QPAC concertgoers, Queensland’s own Katie Noonan is one of these, as audience members soon see in the (rescheduled) one-off concert coup, that sees the celebrated artist perform Mitchell’s iconic autobiographical 1971 album Blue in commemoration of its 50th anniversary.

Noonan’s vocals are flawless as she explores the album’s consideration of the various facets of relationships, from infatuation in the subtle triumph of ‘A Case of You’ to insecurity in the tonally-rich ‘This Flight Tonight’. But first, audience members are treated to an Act One from up-and-coming artist Jo Davie, whose similarly angelic voice soars through opening number, ‘Clouds’, before some original works, with additional guitar accompaniment by Jack Walton.

After interval, the five-time ARIA award-winning Noonan takes to the stage with her supporting musicians, electrified folk guitarists (Brandon Mamata and Ben Hauptmann), bass player (Steele Chabau) and drummer (Katie’s son Dexter Hurren) to present Blue’s anthology of songs in order as intended by their original album’s curation. The cohesive showcase of the seminal album’s song in their authentic order captures the restlessness of someone traveling, traveling on a lonely road. Indeed, from the opening number, the melodically layered and complex ‘All I Want’, the concert serves as reminder of the work’s songwriting and compositional excellence. Not only this, but Noonan’s consistent, pure vocals and tonal clarity captures the unique style and essence of this iconic artist.

As if sophisticated mastery of the often-complex harmonies is not enough, for some tracks, Noonan provides deceptively simple piano accompaniments, interspersed with snippets of song factoids, like explanation of the subject-matter of Mitchell’s fourth studio album’s title (and thesis) track ‘Blue’, signpost of the poetry of potentially mundane lyrical descriptions in the emotionally weighty ‘My Old Man’ and highlight of the familiar chimes of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the melody of ‘River’.

In addition to the twists and turns of the album’s ten songs, the Act concludes with share of some other Mitchell numbers, yet still, highlights include the uplifting melodies of homesickness in the surprisingly cheerful ‘California’, Mitchell’s postcard song from an escape trip to Europe, as much as the gorgeous yearning balladry of ‘A Case Of You’, thanks to Noonan’s ethereally-voiced ability to evoke the complicated emotions behind the song’s narrative. The Concert Hall aesthetics are as glorious as ever, particularly in lush lighting of Noonan’s piano numbers and the venue’s pristine acoustics make it the perfect site for the show’s serene showcase of vocal talent and celebration of song writing, for Mitchell and Noonan fans alike.

Despite its title, “Katie Noonan – Joni Mitchell’s Blue 50th Anniversary” is about more than just the singularity of Mitchell’s musical focus on what is generally regarded by music critics to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Noonan’s interpretations feel fresh but still faithful to the vulnerable honesty and catharsis at the core of the critically and commercially successful album that Mitchell has herself described as “the purest emotional record that I will ever make in my life”. The poetic imagery and emotional insight evoked are powerful reminders of the universality and thus enduring appeal of Mitchell’s writing, leading to a deserved standing ovation, after which things finish with an ooh, bop-bop-bop-bop ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ singalong to send audience members euphorically into their Sunday nights.

Photos c/o – Nick Maguire

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.

Exquisite Elixir

Gratitude and Grief (Brisbane Festival and Griffith University)

QPAC, Concert Hall

September 9

628952-287122-34.jpg

“Gratitude and Grief” is not only the name of the newly released album in which Katie Noonan and Elixir explore every nuance of Michael Leunig’s poetry, but, for fortunate Brisbane Festival audiences, is also the title of the creative collaboration’s special first-weekend show. The fusion of music, poetry and art from multi-platinum-selling and five-time ARIA Award-winning singer/songwriter Katie Noonan, Australia’s ‘poet laureate’ Michael Leunig, Noonan’s ARIA Award-winning jazz trio Elixir (featuring Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnusson) and Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra (under the baton of Iain Grandage) offers audience members a Sunday slow-down and sense of calm from its first string and woodwind sounds.

The focus, however, is immediately Noonan’s stunning, ethereal-as-always voice. That is until cartooner Michael Leunig joins the group on stage. Leunig, who has collaborated over four years with Elixir to reinterpret ten of his poems in song, speaks the poems live between the songs being played while he draws beautiful accompaniments to each piece live onstage in his trademark black and white, quivering line style. The trademark simple yet evocative images suit both the sentiment and the gentle character of the show, which represents realisation of Noonan’s ambition in starting Elixir, to explore Australian poetry and find a place for quieter acoustic music. ‘Gratitude and Grief’ for example, see the accompaniment of a profound image of parent cradling a child in their arms, while barbed wire surrounds and a fighter plane flies overhead, in accompaniment to words such as ‘in the cradle of his mother’s arms a baby lies warm and sheltered from the time when they will come apart’.

gratitude-and-grief-1.jpg

The titular song also serves as standout though the beautiful Camerata string sounds, followed then by the simple message of ‘Peace is my Drug’, transporting the audience to a place of pleasant thematic contemplation. Although there is an intimacy to the entire program, after interval sees some humour too, with the quirky song ‘Magpie’ its appeal to the bird, “don’t put a hole in me” and the infectious generous sentiment of ‘Smile’.

Every of the concert’s numbers showcases Noonan’s soaring vocals and superb range, however, the most memorable come at the afternoon’s end in Elixir’s intimate and soulful arrangement on ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and an even more tender and angelic ‘Rainbow Connection’ (because love is love). And Camerata Conductor Iain Grandage’s ‘Let it Ring’ and ‘The Path to Your Door’, likewise, fill the Concert Hall with outstanding musicianship, with evocative bird-like sounds and percussion, so that desire becomes only for the show’s exquisite experience to linger a little more.

Dl4Pu95U8AAsfd4.jpg

While festival shows so often take audiences on flights of fantasy, rarely do their worlds of whimsy offer opportunity for reflective pause amongst the painting-the-town-pink frenzy that Brisfest brings us each Spring…. that is the luxurious joy of “Gratitude and Grief”.

‘She’ sings

Love-Song-Circus (Kin Music)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

March 4 – 8

Image

“Love-Song-Circus” is a wonderful experience that represents all that is rewarding about theatrical collaboration, with songstress Katie Noonan joining with internationally renowned Brisbane-based company Circa, to present a deliciously divine artistic endeavour that is a privilege to experience.

The show, which was conceptualised and composed by Noonan, tells the largely unheard stories of convict women; the work was inspired by coins in the National Museum exhibition, ‘Love Tokens’, which showcased pennies that convicts engraved with messages and images for the loved ones they left behind. And the resulting “Love-Song-Circus” is an interesting way of sharing these stories, largely silenced to the annals of history, offering a profound glimpse into the broken but fierce hearts of women in cruel colonial times.

With songs such as ‘Janet” and ‘Space Between Us’, reflecting on the untold sadness of mothers forced to abandon their children, many mothers in the audience will be moved to tears. The mournful poignancy of these laments perfectly showcases the hauntingly exquisite melodies of the Aria Award winning, platinum selling artist and her performance is a flawless one, impossibly beautiful (to quote Kate Ceberano) and innately enthral as her  resonates in the air like the reverberating ting of a wine glass tapped. It is a versatile sound that is angelic and melancholy, but also feisty and full of the flavours of folk tradition in lively Irish ditties such as ‘Ellen’.

Indeed, the show includes a range of tunes from gloomy ballads to energetic ditties, reflecting the contrasting emotions of the work, in every instance brought to life, not just by Noonan’s voice, but the accomplished musicianship of the accompanying Gossamer string quartet, piano, double bass and guitar/banjo players.

From the moment it begins, “Love-Song-Circus” makes its aesthetic feast apparent. Bathed in the beauty of nuanced lighting, Noonan’s vocals soar as Circa contemporary circus acrobat/aerialists literally emerge from the darkness, twisting and turning to reveal peeks of red underskirt, creating astounding shapes to be appreciated by their awed audience. The impressive skills of these performers, whose vignettes represent the physical strength of the women convicts, compliment the music; their graceful acts navigate the line between strength and tenderness, adding to the work’s evocation.

“Love-Song-Circus” is a gorgeous, glorious work of art that serves as both a tribute to and a celebration of the strength and sacrifice of convict women and a moving meditation of musical brilliance. It is fitting perhaps that Noonan speaks no words to the audience during the show; it should perhaps be considered as a monologue, rather than a sum of its musical parts, for, although the songs provide snapshots into varied fierce hearts, holistically they need to be combined to really allow ‘her’ to sing.