I trundled along to the very funky Pure Pop Records in St Kilda last night to catch Deborah Conway and partner Willy Zygier perform.
I saw them only weeks ago, supporting Leonard Cohen in front of thousands, so this gig, with 30 or 40 people comfortably arrayed around the record store’s brick courtyard, was something of a contrast.
But not in terms of the performance, strangely enough. The couple, with three daughters in the audience, were just as chilled, their rapport just as warm and endearing, though the interplay between the two was magnified thanks to our proximity.
Normally, the thought of spending 90 minutes listening to two folks armed only with acoustic guitars is nerve-wracking: should I bring a pillow? A razor blade? Ear plugs?
No such fears of folksy warbling or surfy somnambulism here; not with that voice, and not with that guitar — in fact, Willy pulls out (and isn’t it handy to have kids for roadies?!) a steel guitar, a ukulele and a mandolin in addition to the acoustic, while Conway plays rhythm. He also provides a wonderfully complementary background voice, accenting choruses and certain lines.
It’s a little surreal, hearing Conway, who burst onto my radar way back when with Do Re Mi singing about pubic hairs on pillows and hopeless men and defiant women, now turning her lyrical wit to suburbia, but the moment passed quickly. Such a voice! (Conway is included in the free Rock Chicks exhibit at the Arts Centre).
Conway and Zygier played tunes predominantly from a new album, Half Man Half Woman — available in a plain cardboard slipcase with origami insert — and a few from the more traditionally packaged Summertown. Songs of love abound, though it might not always be the peaceful happiness of Lying Next To You but rather a glimpse of that Do Re Mi fire in, say, Say Goodbye to What is Left, and there’s uptempo thumpers, too, such as the eight-minute saga of Take Pity on the Beast.
A highlight of last night’s gig was seeing the three daughters Syd, Alma and Hettie aka the Zygierettes perform two numbers, one a capella, revealing promising voices each with their own distinct qualities. (Conway and the girls stayed in the store to sign albums afterwards.)
The venue was also part of the attraction, with a tarpaulin covering the open area of the roof sometimes ruffling in the breeze, a small bar set up in one corner at the back, a coffee machine inside on the counter, vegetarian pizzas and open melts on the menu, and universally friendly staff.
All in all, it was a damn fine way to spend an overcast Sunday evening.