Amanda Palmer, roamin’ at the Forum

Back to back Amanda Palmer aka how sore are my feet? A little tenderness in the soles is well worth the effort of standing through performances by AFP, especially when she’s backed up by such splendid talent.

It’s a real cabaret atmosphere, with Palmer the centre of attention for the cultish fans: hence the non-stop murmur of conversation and bint-twittering throughout the rest of the gig. The inane shout-outs were saved for AFP: you know you’re old when you want to get to a gig that starts on time, where the crowd doesn’t squish you, where you can listen and watch and be a part of the performance without being a party to someone else’s casual chat.

But don’t let the grumblings of an old fart put you off, nor give you a false impression: last night’s gig rocked, and Melbourne’s Forum theatre, with its peeling walls, faux Roman architecture and star-studded twilight-blue sky, was the ideal backdrop for this kind of controlled mayhem. (Can’t wait to see Gary Numan tear it up!)

In fact, this was perhaps the most orderly show I’ve seen of AFP’s, though it wasn’t a regular rock gig, oh no (never!). Guests kept coming back; having played their own couple of tunes, they’d pop back to duet a bit later on. The Tin Stars, with Mikelangelo up front, provided the bulk of the backing — very sharp — after they held the main support slot, with the dashing Kim Boekbinder, the divine Jane Austen Argument and Jason Webley all contributing wee sets. With Webley in the house, it was always on the cards that Evelyn Evelyn would make an appearance — just the one song tonight. The line-up showed much parallel with AFP’s Opera House gig on Australia Day and Webley’s Fitzroy show on Friday night, but it ran to a much tighter schedule with changeovers quite quick. The atmosphere was always relaxed and comfortable, though there were sombre moments: a collection for Christchurch quake survivors (the Australian Red Cross is taking donations) and an echo of Oz Day with a rendition of The Drover’s Boy.

AFP began the night topless in safety harness atop the theatre staging with a quiet ukulele number (Makin’ Whoopee) before doing a slow quick-change on stage — Aussie and Kiwi flags prominent — to get the show on the road. An all-in encore, complete with strip-teasing koalas, of Map of Tasmania and Leeds United — earlier, Coin Operated Boy (and a promise of a possible Dresden Dolls tour Down Under) and Oasis were among the crowd pleasers in a set drawing heavily from the Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under album — led to another, a repeat of the previous night’s drinking song. As AFP remarked, you know it’s been a good night when the stage is littered with headless koalas, women’s clothing and beer.

We could all drink to that.

Evelyn Evelyn at the Evelyn, with friends

A late start to the morning, now listening to Kim Boekbinder’s The Impossible Girl album hot off the merch stand at last night’s gig at The Evelyn Hotel in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, and again feeling really sorry for her that last night’s late start resulted in her set being reduced to two songs.

Boekbinder, who does wonderful things with loops and squeeze-squeak plastic crocodiles when she’s not simply enthralling with insightful snippets of love and life, backs up tonight and tomorrow, and is hanging in Oz for a while, apparently. Her album shows a wide range of musical styles and some quirky stuff to leaven the heartbreak and acerbic observations. Catch her if you can.

The reason for last night’s foray was Evelyn Evelyn, a concept act put together by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. Webley was headlining last night’s bill, which also featured the intriguing Jane Austen Argument (although it was only Tom last night, with support from guitarist-singer Gemma O’Connor whose voice was sensational).

It’s an amazing line-up of talent for a pub gig.

The conceit for the Evelyns is that they are conjoined twins: Palmer and Webely sharing a suit, the illusion given a delightful touch of the absurb by Webley’s beard (the other one should grow a beard, he reckons, to much LOLing). The Evelyns were much fun, though the theatrics did drag out the set a tad — moments of too little happening stretching an uncomfortably crowded room’s attention span, allowing the bar chatter to rise. I couldn’t see much of them when they were playing the keyboards, a hand a’piece and brilliantly clever, ripping out a cover of Lean on Me that was a highlight of the night.

They juggled an accordion, a guitar and then — with a sly wink to a third hand — Amanda’s trademark ukulele, and then did a bit of improv word-by-word Q&A with the audience.

Later, when Webley, ripping through Gypsy-ish accordion tunes (fave: Dance While the Sky Crashes Down), called Amanda back for some duets, the rapport between the two was centre stage. As was the rapport between Amanda and the audience; she strikes me as a natural cabaret star — the cellar kind, not the Vegas kind.

The gig dragged on a bit, given the crowding, the malfunction of Webley’s guitar undercutting his set, and the night stretching out past 1am, but you’d be hard-pressed to get better bang for your buck than this line-up offered.