Back (Tim Minchin)
QPAC, Concert Hall
April 9 – 12
Tim Minchin’s new show “Back” begins suddenly with the internationally acclaimed Australian composer and musician appearing almost out of nowhere, spotlit in his seat at the centre-stage piano. A fumble at the beginning of one of his newer songs forces a restart so we get to see his (re)entrance after all. It is actually quite an apt beginning, indicative of the show’s organic, bespoke feel.
The responsible song is the metaphoric and meaningful ‘If This Plane Goes Down’, (“remember me as someone who cared, often, but not always, about his hair, self-righteous when shit wasn’t fair.”) Its sentiment is a theme that appears a number of times throughout the show, such as in the haunting ‘I’ll take lonely tonight’. As the show’s tag line of ‘Old songs, new songs, f*** you songs’ attests, the set list features a lot of retrospective focus, going back even so far as Minchin’s complicated beat poem ‘Mitsubishi Colt’ set to impressive improvised jazzy piano accompaniment.
All numbers of course showcase his penchant for puns and interesting deft phrase rhymes of the Cole Porter sort, only with swearing in their rhyming couplets. It is accurate assumption too that “Back” is polemical in its Ted Talk style touch on controversial issues of religion et al. While he talks of confirmation bias, increased tribalisation and the hypocrisy of assumed religious indemnity, ‘Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ does not feature. ‘Pope’ and ‘Thank You God’ (“for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s Mum”) do, however, and are as wonderfully jaunty as ever, especially ‘Thank You God’, which features as an early show highlight in its lyrical avalanche of mockery of how prayer might mobilise religious response from an omnipotent ophthalmologist god.
“Back” is a mixed but still balanced bag of a musical experiences and laughs aplenty, full of sharp turns that take us from talk of George Pell to Minchin’s epic rock song opera ode to cheese and then the lovely ‘Leaving L.A.’ ‘Rock N Roll Nerd’ features a marvellous musical reveal that is worth the price of admission alone and things only soar higher from there. The absence of ‘Dark Side’ is disappointing, with encore instead featuring songs from his ill-fated Broadway musical adaptation “Goundhog Day” and also “Matilda”, for which he wrote the music and lyrics.
With an all-star band (including The Whitlams’ Jak Housden) in support, familiar songs like ‘If I Didn’t Have You’ are given a new, and in this case, sexy feel. Minchin himself is as skilled as even on piano, as is showcased in numbers like ‘Prejudice’ and from the opening song his voice is a smooth as ever in that ‘White Wine in the Sun’ sort of sentimental way, making us especially thankful for the Concert Hall’s impressive acoustics. Ever-talented, he takes to the guitar too in the closing anti-American anthem ‘Fuck’, another highlight in its hyper-real realisation.
“Back” tickets may set audience members back some decent coin, but they are worth every cent in every regard, even down to detail of lighting which enhances the little moments of songs as much as it awashes the stage with narratively-theme colours. But above everything else, after a seven-year stage absence it is just marvellous to see the multi-talented musical comedy genius touring our stages again. While his talk of his admittedly now rich white man privilege is tongue-in-cheek, there is an honesty too in his reflection about what has brought him home to Australia.
“I’m not saying I’m Jesus” Tim tells us in the lyrics of ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, despite his bare feet, long hair and bearded appearance, but he is a god of musical comedy cabaret and without doubt he is well and truly back. And given that his one sold out Brisbane show immediately morphed into a four night run, it seems audiences are excited by the prospect.
The joy of the show is infectious; for over two high energy hours (without intermission), Minchin is pure entertainer, jumping about the stage, squatting at his piano and posing atop it in his trademark bare feet, yet it feels like the shortest time. Indeed, while each evening may deliver a unique experience, it is sure to be an entertaining one…. Maybe less so for those unknowing audience members who were overhead after-show expressing their surprise at the ‘interesting’ religious focus of his repertoire, but from the standing ovation at show’s end, it seems they are in the minority.