The Northcote Social Club was packed on Monday night for the last of five gigs by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, and what a sweaty little box that venue is. But the sound was on the money and if elbows in the chest and a stage seen past bobbing heads counts as intimate, then this was it.
The purpose of the band’s string of low-brow gigs was to road test material for an album, which begins recording in Melbourne this week. Today, in fact. And it promises to be a most enjoyable record indeed.
Palmer has assembled three multi-instrumentalists (Jherek Bischoff – mostly bass, Michael McQuilken – mostly drums, Chad Raines – mostly guitars and synthesiser, and trumpet and vox too), who share a joyous rapport on stage. It’s great to see a collective of musos enjoying themselves, playing for the fun, interacting, teasing and laughing. A Palmer gig is often a rambunctious affair, and this was no exception. There was even birthday cake for the mostly drummer, and a ukulele present that was broken in immediately. Kudos!
The new material, mostly upbeat and groovy, shows an expansion of style leaning on an ’80s sensibility — and synthesiser — in addition to more typical staccato Palmer delivery. There was some gorgeous phrasing, excellent harmony work, exquisite changes of mood and tempo. There was a ‘My Sharona’ lift, traces of Siouxsie Sioux and Martha Davis and, if the crowd is to be believed, The Cars, though I wasn’t quite convinced on that score. Happy beats and sombre ballads. And a big blast of brass.
Monday night’s finale — sadly, the train timetable meant we had to eschew the encore — included an appearance by near-nekkid performance artists, an opening slot filled with so much aplomb by Die Roten Punkte (so versatile, this duo, playing punk, pop, silly ditties and Krautrock — catch them at the Spiegeltent!) and a superb vocal guest spot by Bauhaus’s David J (who DJs at Cabaret Nocturne on Friday).