Wendy Rule unveils new tracks

singer wendy rule with snake tattooMelbourne singer Wendy Rule played her last hometown gig last night before setting off for another northern hemisphere sojourn. She was backed by her usual band of William on percussion, Rachel on cello and husband Tim on guitar and Indian flute, though a guitar hassle meant Tim was sidelined from time to time.

The 303 Club at Northcote was bunkerish, hot and intimate, with carpet on the sloping floor for the sitters and sofas around the walls that sported eclectic paintings that tagged this an alternative, innocuous venue.

The sound was superb, controlled by Siiri Metsar who has produced previous albums for Rule and will be producing her next one, due to be cut mid-year. With just three new songs under her belt, Rule admitted she had her work before her, but expected her forthcoming trip to North America — including a week at the desert retreat that has already proven a creative space for her — to help fill the gap.

Amid standards such as ‘Artemis’ and an impromptu ‘Hecate’ — the guitar refused to downscale for ‘Creator Destroyer’ — and ‘Deity’, Rule unveiled her three new tunes, at least one of them for the first time.

‘Home’ carried a longing to putting down roots somewhere uncrowded; ‘After the Storm’ (I hope I remember this rightly) was a tour de force of swell and crash, mirroring the lightning storm and nature-scented morning after that inspired it; and ‘Black Snake’ was a ripping, pagan ode dedicated to the serpent leading not to expulsion but self-discovery and actualisation.

Other songs on the night, spread across two sets and broken by anecdotes and personable chatter as stage fans were turned on and instruments misbehaved, included the infectious percussion of ‘Wolf Sky’, the gorgeous harmonies of ‘Horses’ and a capella ‘My Heart is like an Open Flower’, as well as several from her most recent album, Guided by Venus.

This was a wonderful gig to start the year with, and one that offers the promise of a winning album to come if that desert country continues to weave its magic.


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Up in the Air

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a professional traveller. He’s got negotiating airports down to a fine art as he closes in on his key goal in life: to be one of the elite travellers to clock 10 million frequent flyer miles. In this goal, he is aided by his job, flying around the globe but chiefly the USA as a hired gun, firing employees for gutless bosses. He also sidelines in presenting talks about his way of living life, known as the empty backpack: Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham doesn’t believe in weighing himself down with possessions nor responsibilities, applying that philosophy to relationships, even family. And yet he can show remarkable understanding, if not compassion, for the victims of corporate downsizing he faces every day.

It is a well-rendered story, the casting spot-on: Vera Farmiga as his love interest gobbled up the screen, and Anna Kendrick fitted her suit as ingenue and foil perfectly.

The movie has a lot to say about family and humanity, and hits emotional buttons without using a sledgehammer. The ending is sublime, and I’m still not sure to what extent Bingham’s journey has been altered. Has he learnt something or is it simply too late for him to make the most of his lesson?

Maybe it’s simply a case of what goes up, must come down…

As someone who loves travel, and has recently battled the burden of an accumulation of possessions, I found much to appreciate in this tale. Life is a balancing act, somewhere between being happy on the ground and being light enough to fly. And happiness, this film tells us in no uncertain terms, is best enjoyed when shared.

Daniel Kitson, 66a Church Road: a lament

daniel kitson

English comedian Daniel Kitson ponders the meanings and makings of home in his production 66a Church Road: A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases (on till January 31). It’s an interesting show, Kitson in tweed suit on a kitchen chair surrounded by suitcases, a ceramic mug at hand; a yellow lamp with shade above him, no microphone. It’s an intimate semi-circular space, the Fairfax Studio at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, and he doesn’t need a mic to reach the rear of the packed room. His monologue is interrupted by vignettes of recorded narration, each about an event that might have happened in Kitson’s eponymous flat, supported by visual aids housed in suitcases, and a piece of film illustrating the Crystal Palace section of London that he calls home. I was glad of our front-row seat, though he did make the aids available to closer scrutiny after the show.

It was a clever piece of stagecraft, but it was Kitson’s musings — remembrances — of his time at this particular address, six years in what he describes as the longest relationship of his life, that set the mood and carried the night. Self-deprecating, hirsute, lisping, he’s an interesting performer, and his insights into just what made 66a Church Road so important in his life struck particular chords here, as we continue our search for a new space to call home.

As Kitson says, a real estate agent might describe it as two bedrooms, close to the station, but what we — all of us — want in a home is ‘lovely’. We want the emotional spark, the security and eventually the familiarity. Home, he says, is memories, and while some might come from place, more often than not it is from people sharing a space, interacting with it, and taking those memories with them. The heart is where the home is, it seems.

At times funny and sarcastic, sometimes quite damning of his landlord, with moments of melancholy and nostalgia, Kitson weaves a well-paced narrative about his relationship with 66a Church Road that is entertaining and thought-provoking.

back in black album by ac/dc

AC/DC’s Family Jewels: rock memories

While we’re in memory-lane mode, I ducked into the AC/DC exhibition at the Arts Centre after Kitson’s show. It’s an impressive display of memorabilia tracking the band’s 35-year career, with nice big screens showing clips and some small screens showing very cool archival footage. I’ve had Highway to Hell in my head all evening.

Which is probably part of the secret of the band’s continuing popularity. They know how to write a hook. I can’t help feeling that the hook is getting a little worn out these days, but the fans keep coming, and have filled two walls with good old-fashioned hard-rockin’ praise for the band.

My mate Andy introduced me to Acca Dacca back in uni, playing the Back in Black album on his record player. I remember buying it on tape in Toronto, of all places. It remains a great rock album, anthemic for some, and a testament to AC/DC’s acumen and dedication in being able to bounce back with gravel-voiced Brian Johnson so soon after the death of that wonderful imp, Bon Scott. We saw them in concert way back when, and they put on a great show. But I don’t think I’ll be fronting up when they tour Australia with their Black Ice show in February. More memories in the making for those about to rock, but I’ll keep mine in the suitcase of the past (for now).

The Flood at La Mama and thoughts of home

Home is where the heart is, or it’s wherever you lay your hat. I think it goes deeper than either of those aphorisms, certainly the latter. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, now that I’m looking down the barrel at my third move in 12 months.

So when I went to La Mama Theatre’s production of The Flood the other night, I found myself plunged into the theme.

This was my first outing to La Mama, and what a wonderful theatre it is. The entrance is in a courtyard reached from an alley, with a plumbed thunderbox standing at the gate like a sentry box. There’s a wee bar on the porch with quite reasonable wine, and plunger coffee if you’re quick.

Inside, the theatre is the size of a lounge room. Quite possibly it was, once. It gives enough space for a couple of rows of seats along two walls. We sat in the front and our feet were touching the props. It’s what a real estate agent might call intimate.

The set design for The Flood was superb. A two-seater lounge buried in domestic detritus so only one person could sit on it with any comfort. Piles of magazines turning the floor into a maze. Lamps added to the minefield. The walls of the set were of timber and mesh, evoking the image of a country fly screen, with painted dark foliage backdrops. Lighting and sound effects were admirable for creating mood with the minimum of fuss, such as dawn’s soft light and the morning song of birds.

It was not bucolic.

Set on an isolated, dilapidated homestead, the story concerned an ageing mother and her two adult daughters coming to terms with the truth of the absent father’s role in their lives, and their reaction to it.

One sister, Cathy, is returned from London after living abroad for more than a decade. The other, Dorothy, has manned the post, propped up by alcohol now that her husband has abandoned her, caring for their mother who is flirting with the border of senility. The sheep have been sold, the dogs have been given away. It is the sense of home and duty that keeps mother and daughter there.

Rising floodwaters mean Cathy is stuck in the house, unable to take her room at the motel in town. Thus begins the atmosphere of entrapment, enhanced by the cage-like, restrictive set, as the three women thrust and parry about the past, and their future.

More than once, Cathy proclaims her interest in the station as being her home. She was happy there, she says, though Dorothy disagrees, pointing out that Cathy’s memories of a rural childhood are rose-coloured.

It’s a tense little play, nothing too complicated, leavened with deadpan, dry Aussie humour, and the actors are each superb within their roles and utterly believable. Even the weather got in on the act, providing mood rain.

And it got me thinking. What is it about ‘home’ that keeps us coming back, even when the home itself is gone? How long does it take to make a home, and is it a function of people, place or both? Can you have more than one? And how do you know that you’ve found it, or is it only when you lose it that you realise you had it?