Compulsion capture

Songs of Compulsion (Lucinda Shaw)

The Outpost Bar

October 16

More than just setting the scene for the seminal story of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, is one of the best emotional crescendos in song. Those not in agreement may just not have seen Lucinda Shaw’s version, which occupies place as one of the many highlights of her Queensland Cabaret Festival Show “Songs of Compulsion”. As her vocals cry out from its sparse introduction in capture of the sorrow, regret, and frustrations of those coming to terms with mortality, audience members know they are experiencing something wonderful. It’s an epic call-back also to one of Shaw’s previous performances in Electric Moon’s 2016 Cabaret Festival show, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” and the set is characterised by a nice balance between time-honoured favourites and original numbers.

The intimacy of The Fortitude Musical Hall’s The Outpost Bar serves as the perfect location in which to experience Shaw’s mesmeric vocal textures. The venue is everything you’d expect from a basement jazz club (if it were upstairs) seductive red and black décor and a grown-up cocktail list accompaniment to graze up against the slow, jazzy numbers on stage. Indeed, its David Lunch-esque ambiance suits the lingering lyricism and tender musical tones that appear as if they are happening in slow-motion, even as Shaw’s powerful vocals reach for the ceiling. This is especially the case as her robust voice rises up and take us down to a tender refrain in Scott Walker’s darkly brilliant ‘My Death’ toast to our inevitable demise, meaning that the audience is enraptured through to its very last note.

True to Shaw’s legacy, the setlist also includes ‘Best Boyfriend’, by local ‘90s feminist folk band Isis (of which she was a founding member) which has this year been released in a rare mix coupled with and even rarer live B-side. In curation with the evening’s other numbers, it illustrates not only her vocal versatility, but a chameleonic style that transcends even to musical accompaniment (by frequent collaborators Mark Angel – guitars, Terry Dixon – bass and James Lees – piano), which ranges from Spanish-style guitar to tambourine and even idiomatic cowbell sound to call our attention. And while the show seems to be over before we know it, as a community craving the vital human connection the comes from live performance, we are happy to be able to support and celebrate the arts again together if only for this 50 minutes.

Album appreciation

I Left My Heart in Highgate Hill (The Collective, in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

November 25

“I Left My Heart in Highgate Hill”, is a song cycle conceived and written by singer-songwriter Sean Sennett. And this year’s Wonderland Festival saw the ultimate romantic ode to Brisbane album presented live on stage with a live band joined by some of Queensland’s finest performers. The one-show-only event audience was obviously a crowd of performer family and friends, gathering by the camera clicks and video screen phone illuminations (at least turn down the brightness!).  People’s enthusiasm for the project and its artists is clear, yet as someone being introduced for the first time, the exclusivity made connection with the performances difficult, despite the intimacy created by the Visy Theatre in thrust stage setup.

While the show is bookended by spoken word segments from which title is taken, the experience is all about the music and, accordingly, the sounds fill the room with all sorts of genres, from the folksy sounds of ‘Winter in August’ by Charlotte Emily, complete with coy vocals and tambourine amongst accompaniments, to the yearning ballad, ‘On Christmas Day’ by Lucinda Shaw. And in every instance, the band does an excellent job in showcasing the variety of styles.

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The eclectic line-up of songs revolves around the same key theme of love, requited and otherwise, but still offers something for everyone when it comes to musical styles and sensibilities. The ‘fast one’ ‘Oscar & Lucinda’ (Megan Cooper) serves up some toe-tapping country-esque sounds and there is a lovely la-la-la twinkle and bubbles (literally) to ‘A Notion of Your Heart’ (Deb Suckling). Standout songs include the lingering ‘Valentine’s Day’ and catchy ‘We’ve Come a Long Way’ which share the sounds and sincerity of The Go Betweens’ drippy style.

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The distinctive sounds come courtesy of eight singers and when they join together in the final number, ‘All Tied Up’, they meld well in lovely melody. In terms of individual performance, Deb Suckling’s voice is richly textured and commanding in an earth-motherish performance of ‘Lost and Found’. More up-tempo and over-too-soon is Lucinda Shaw’s ‘You Broke My Heart at the Big Day Out’; the number not only showcases her dexterous vocals in contrasting sensibility to her earlier number, but encourages a dynamic and engaging performance highlight.

While the revolving door of lead singers provides interest, audience time with each seems to be over too soon, making me wish for consecutive numbers from artists rather than switches after each number and resulting program pauses. Some more information about the songs could also assist in appreciating the Brisbane references at the core of so many of the numbers and fostering a more enduring connection to enhance the show’s already many positives.

Sounds of the city

The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 12 – 16

Australian alternative rock band The Go-Betweens is part of the architecture of this city – not only culturally, but literally, courtesy of the inner city Brisbane toll bridge named in their honour. The indie band found cult fame (but no fortune) with their idiosyncratic music, focussed on the personal rather than the political at a time of political turmoil in the state (the band formed at UQ when Queensland was halfway through Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s almost two decades as Premier). It is appropriate, therefore to have the band’s songs tell the story of a generation and a city that shaped it, which is the tag-line for the world premiere collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane theatre and music companies Now Look Here and Electric Moon, “The Sound of a Finished Kiss”.

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At its core, the show, which is written and directed by Kate Wild, is a celebration of the band’s rich musical legacy, frozen in time within the early ‘90s era. It begins however in the less distant past; it is 2016 when one of a now-far-flung group of friends finds a mixtape that transports her from London back to the endless empty days of Brisbane in 1991, when their collective potential still had possibility for fulfillment.

Becky (Kat Henry) has just moved from Toowoomba to the sophisticated big smoke city of Brisbane for university. At O-week she meets Zed (Lucas Stibbard) who has similarly relocated from Mackay, only with a more personal reason driving his desire for a fresh start. For the next two years they hang out as Becky works down a list of coming-of-age milestones and through a series of monologues interwoven with the songs they loved, we see them relive the events which shattered friendships and scattered the four friends of their group across the world. Like the music itself, their stories navigate an array of emotions, from the euphoric to the painful and many moments of humour as snippets of the different perspectives of relationships reveal their distinct characters.

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One thing Brisbane does well is tell its own stories, whether in words, through music or on stage. “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” combines all three of these. The show is full of referential fondness for the city and its locations, in descriptions of West End traffic and changes to its landscapes, our slow brown river, its Story Bridge, Queen Street Mall and The Beat. And description of a party in a verandas-all-around-Queenslander in all its swampie, fire-twirling, goon-bladder drinking, literary discussion glory is like a step back in time to a life with a different group of people, with time to spend and squander.

The show’s 90-minute running times flies by, despite the simplicity of its narrative, which is appropriate given that at the age of its characters, everything seems immense. What is big, however, are the sounds of the show’s live five-piece band and four talented actor/musicians. Musical director James Lees of Electric Moon effectively unites the music of The Go-Betweens with Wild’s original story. Although some songs go on a little bit longer than necessary, they all fit effectively into the narrative, especially given the different song writing styles of the band’s two front men, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. As an opener, the heartfelt ‘Cattle and Cane’ for example, written by McLennan as a longing for his boyhood Rockhampton farm home while homesick after relocation to London, evokes an identifiable recall of wanting to venture forth to a bigger, brighter world and later nostalgia for what has been left behind, in words like ‘I recall coming home through fields of cane… the sky a rain of falling cinders’, especially to those, like me, whose own hometown memories include the evening haze of cane fires and their black cinder burn off.

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All members of the ensemble cast deliver in every respect. Kat Henry is a naively-optimistic Becky in counter to Lucas Stibbard’s eyes-downcast, hands-in-pocket loner, Zed, yet together they make ‘Right Here’ an at-once cutesy and heartfelt duet. Lucinda Shaw is a tour-de-force as Karla, Becky’s indie spirit guide. Vocally she is magnificent, moving from husky smokiness to screaming heights in the post-punk B-side ‘Karen’ (written by Robert Foster as a tribute to University of Queensland Library staff). And her later ‘Bye Bye Pride’, about the humility of healing and moving on with life is a memorable combination of vulnerability and vocal power.

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As the self-assured and almost larger-than-life Mike, Sandro Colarelli is just as compelling. In ‘Drive for Your Memory’, a song Robert Forster wrote reflecting about his break-up with the band’s drummer Lindy Morrison, he is an irresistible force in description of how Mike is affected by a love that couldn’t be, yet almost was… ‘Deep down I’m lonely and I miss my friend’. And in ‘The House Jack Kerouac Built’, recognition of a bad situation becoming worse, his rich, tremulous modern-day crooning sounds are delicious in their Morrissey shades, especially as he laments his loneliness in the number’s final lines. The song is also unforgettable due to its full band arrangement and it is wonderful to often see its musicians Ruth Gardner, Richard Grantham, Brett Harris, James Lees and Karl O’Shea revealed from behind the back-of-stage scrim screen in some numbers.

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Like the breezy, melodic mid-tempo number ‘Spring Rain’ which looks back on living in Brisbane suburbia and ‘driving my first car, my elbows in the breeze’ “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” has an essentially-beautiful simplicity to its experience. As celebration of The Go-Betweens’ rich musical legacy, it is worthy enough in its revisit of Grant McLennan’s melodic genius and Robert Forster’s evocative lyrics. But with its backstory of the city and some of its people, it is simply superb.

The music conjures up the past, as only music can do, beyond just the summer sounds of their most commercial hit ‘Streets of Your Town’. As a then NQ swampie who road-tripped from Mackay to Brisbane in a Datsun Sunny listening to The KLF for life-anew at the University of Queensland, it not only made me sentimental, but left me lamenting about youth being wasted on the young. Indeed, so powerful is its evocation of era, that it can make theatregoers nostalgic for a time and place they didn’t personally encounter.

Regardless of your experience, or otherwise, of Brisbane’s unique subculture in the early 1990s, however, it still offers examination of some resonate, universal themes that will leave audiences with urge to reconnect with friends from long-ago lives. This is a show with an all-too-short initial run whose virtually sold-out season stands as testament to its need to return its sounds of our city to a stage. In the meantime, we can await another viewing with revisit of old ‘Tweens albums and re-read of “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” and “Zigzag Street”.

Bush best

In The Warm Room – The Music of Kate Bush 1978 – 1980 (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 9

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When a show is billed as “the voices of eight seasoned cabaret performers will shine Bush’s creativity, imagination and innovation”, expectations are high. Appropriately so, given Electric Moon’s previous shows, and as-anticipated, realised from its opening, beautifully-mournful number, ‘Moving’, by Josh Daveta, with ethereal additions from Bethan Ellsmore. And then there is Alison St Ledger who sounds just like the iconic and unique artist in the meta-music ‘Wow’.

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It is not all whimsical, however, with Daniel Hack rocking ‘Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak’. Indeed, there is something for everyone, from everyone; the stage is cluttered with collaborators (#inagoodway) and the show is all the better for it. The ten piece band, for example, does an excellent job in evoking a variety of moods and genre influences, as eclectic as its source songstress’ musical catalogue.

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Highlights include Daveta’s rollicking ‘Oh to be in Love’ and a haunting ‘’Oh England My Lionheart’ from an imposing (as always) Sandro Colarelli. And there is also Lucinda Shaw’s guttural ‘The Kick Inside’ and later symphonic post-apocalyptic ‘Breathing’, and a wonderful ‘Wuthering Heights’ from Bethan Ellsmore, in nod to Bush’s trademark cinematic and literary references and as example of Ellsmore’s vocal prowess.

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In each instance, the songs in the warm room are almost shared anew as the performers each bring something different to bringing out Kate Bush’s very best. But one would expect no less from Sandro Colarelli, Lisa Crawley, Josh Daveta, Bethan Ellsmore, Daniel Hack, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger… the best bringing out Bush’s best in make of an infectiously-entertaining evening.

Photos c/o – Lachlan Douglas

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Stardust sensation

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 4

It is often said that the simple ideas can be the best. And Electric Moon’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” is evidence of this. The show, returned to the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the Queensland Cabaret Festival, takes audiences on a glam rock journey though performance of a masterpiece David Bowie album in its entirety.

Bowie’s 1972 concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust) is a seminal work, consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Its popularity is confirmed by this show’s sold-out and additional performances, both as part of the Cabaret Festival and in its Melt Queer Arts Festival appearance earlier in the year.

The appeal is understandable. The album includes a string of hits, all of which appear in this rock ‘n; roll cabaret spectacular, performed by a stellar who’s who cast of Brisbane musicians20 performers including eight lead vocalists and a dynamic array of 12 musicians playing: strings, percussion, woodwind and rocking lead guitars.

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The songs tell the tale of Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extra-terrestrial beings. It begins with Lucinda Shaw’s ‘Five Years’ about the looming end of the world, which she builds into a chaotic crescendo. It is an epic introduction that sets up showcase for the particularly impressive female talent on show. Emma Dean is ethereal in her gentle but stirring ‘Starman’ and Alison St Ledger serves up a solid ‘It Ain’t Easy’, capturing its comparative darkness and rock sensibility.

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And then there is the newcomer to the group, Maria DeVita, whose infectious, full throttle rock and roll energy is explosive in ‘Hang on to Yourself’ as she thrashes about the stage with Joan Jett punk attitude. And also of note is the Pivitol ‘Ziggy Stardust’, which introduces Daniel Hack’s extraordinary vocals, including moments when his voice mimics the compelling drama of Bowie’s unique sound.

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From start to finish, “Ziggy Stardust” is a show of passion and artistry, polished to perfection. Director James Lees has taken on a formidable task, especially following Bowie’s death and the show has accordingly become about honouring the artist as much as celebrating Ziggy and along with the album. There is presentation also of other Bowie material including ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘All the Young Dudes’ amongst other hits, ending with the Allison St Ledger led ‘Heros’, one of Bowie’s most inspirational songs, delivered with emotional intensity in its haunting strings introduction and belting rock and roll finish.

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Although entertaining, these later sections lack the impact of the album’s numbers, which serve as celebration of sequencing as a whole as much as discrete song selections. It would be brilliant to see a show that instead chronicles through two albums, either side of an intermission. This is but a small suggestion for what is a fabulous show of this 1970s cultivated musical statement. “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” is a sensationally good time with the legacy of one of the greatest glittery superstars, that, like any good album, can be revisited again and again without disappointment.