Moira Finucane, does it again

glory box la revolucion


The milk was good, but it was the tomato sauce that took the prize.

There on Collingwood’s Melba Spiegeltent catwalk, Moira Finucane in a white gown, tearing out her heart — only her heart was a family-size bottle of tomato sauce, dribbling and spurting in time with her anguish. Exit to Hollywood blonde Clare St Clare taking that dripping container while singing Blue Velvet.

Yes, it’s Finucane & Smith, strutting their art — some new, some old — in Glory Box La Revolucion (until 13 September 2015).

The troupe provide about 90 minutes of entertainment: another highlight, one of the best covers of Bowie’s Wild is the Wind you’ll ever hear, by Mama Alto accompanied by piano.

That same piano that keeps our table, only a row back from the catwalk, safe from flying milk as Finucane empties two 2l bottles over plastic-wrapped audience, self and stage in wild abandon.

Elsewhere, she’s nude under witchy fingernails and black diaphanous cape, and rockin’ it out to Garbage (if memory serves) in jeans and leather jacket with St Clare.

There’s acrobatics involving chairs, rope, trapeze, cork screw … this is 18+ wine drinking. A bewigged industrial thrash dance. A song about more than coffee in Paris, an ooh la la to equality and respect.

Boobs, chuckles, politics, art: always entertaining. All in the luscious surrounds of the Spiegeltent with its Innocent Bystander pinot noir at the bar.

The card on the table tells us that Finucane & Smith are heading off to Cuba and may be some time. NO, we say. For all that we’ve seen of Moira Finucane, we still haven’t seen enough.
Melba Spiegeltent at Collingwood

SIDE DISH

lamp at savanna ethiopian eritrean restaurantBefore the gig, we had dinner at Savanna, an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant. Check out this funky ceiling lamp! Check out the delicious menu — we shared a platter of various veg and meat with injera for $45, washed down with organic Ethiopian shiraz at $6 a glass, and walked out pleasantly stuffed. Highly recommended.

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Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 3

johnette napolitano at melbourne's spiegeltent

Johnette Napolitano during her Night 3 performance at the Spiegeltent. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

The final night of Johnette Napolitano’s stint at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne, and as with the previous two nights, it was an outstanding hour.

Napolitano, in her top hat and be-ribboned home-made dress worn over trousers, had anecdotes aplenty, starting with a ‘frog on a log’ song she wrote at age 12 — her first — to entertain a sick sister. Marc Moreland (of Wall of Voodoo, and Napolitano collaboration Pretty & Twisted with Danny Montgomery; he died in March 10 years ago) and ‘Joey’ featured. A superbly delivered poem from her Rough Mix book that had her harking back to the Rat Pack and the Hollywood of her youth. Those interjections within songs: priceless.

The Spiegeltent encourages that lounge room conversation atmosphere and this was a very comfortable house party indeed.

I’ve not heard versions of ‘Joey’ and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’ (by Wall of Voodoo’s Andy Prieboy) more impressive than tonight’s renditions. Quite remarkable, given the guitarist has fractures in both hands.

Again, though the songs were much the same as previously, the order was changed around and each was given its own treatment. Finale ‘Bloodletting’ was more comical — Napolitano has a wonderfully expressive face; ‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ rang heavy with emotion — I suspect there were ghosts in the house, haunting those lyrics, as one might expect from a gig with an autobiographical intention.

Johnette Napolitano 2002 interview

The audience, as last night, provided the rhythm section for ‘Roses Grow’, and how Napolitano can hold a note… I can’t even hold my breath that long, and she’s got a good 10 years on me. The sell-out crowd again got to put their hands together to bolster the encore, a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’.

Other songs included ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ with Napolitano on piano — man, it ripped — ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘the Wedding Theme from Candy‘, ‘Rosalie‘, ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same’ (so gorgeous, a favourite for this French Quarter tragic) and “Take Me Home/Rehab’.

On Thursday night we had the rain, and last night there was a woman in the audience, apparently on her way to a party, dressed as Marilyn Monroe, which was the perfect window dressing for ‘Roses Grow’ (which references the actor). No such ‘extras’ tonight*, just honest, at times affectingly raw, music, that drew a standing ovation.

I hope her hands heal soon, that she continues to make wonderful music and lets us experience it in person like this. I saw Concrete Blonde twice on 2010’s Bloodletting tour (Melbourne and Brisbane) and they totally tore it up, but this series was something else again. Bravo; fucking bravo!


johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent

Pic: K McD


* Addendum: There was an inopportune low-flying helicopter that leant itself to a joke about being on the run, like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas was it, that totally cracked Napolitano up.

Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 2

johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent, night 3

Johnette Napolitano on the third night of her Melbourne Spiegeltent run. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

After breaking the ice last night, Johnette Napolitano presented a more relaxed figure at her Spiegeltent gig in Melbourne tonight. Still humbled by the full house, but a little stumble-fingers too, stalling two songs — ‘how do you fuck up ‘Joey’?, she asked at one stage with an endearing chuckle — and tumbling her wine glass.

Thing is, when you’re personable and natural, you can get away with the odd fumble. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone has to be polished and Photoshopped to the sheen of ceramic in order to entertain. Cracks are allowed. Crack-ups are divine; Napolitano’s humour won through. ‘I’m a mess,’ she said; ‘thanks for your patience’. Pshaw. When you can bring tears to the eyes with a rendition of ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same (Since You’ve Been Gone)’, you get all the patience you need.

The set list was tweaked from the previous, again opening with ‘Rosalie’, and finishing early with the a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’ before an encore of ‘Roses Grow’ to the accompaniment of audience percussion, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ and the finale, ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’.

Napolitano, in hat and ankle-length sleeveless black dress, was in good spirits, wisecracking, rendering slightly different takes on some songs, making each one fresh within its moment. The set list also included ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ with a snatch of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ on the piano and ‘the wedding theme from Candy‘.

There were anecdotes of Wall of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland and Melbourne (the inspiration for the hit ‘Joey’), of overflowing bath tubs and nanna naps, references to being old belied by a voice that took us far, far away from the canvas and mirrors of the elegant Spiegeltent. Great sound, too.

Napolitano is donating all proceeds of merch sales to the Lost Dogs Home, with one more night to run in her three-night appearance.

  • Night 3 review
  • Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 1

    johnette napolitano at the melbourne spiegeltent

    Night 3 performance. Pic: Kirstyn McDermott

    Please, memory gods, don’t let this one fade: Johnette Napolitano, bathed in blue lights, bare arms showing muscle and tattoos, sleeveless red-and-black gothic dress over black trousers, black hair curling freely around her face, funky top hat with shiny pins; there’s rain on the canvas roof of the Spiegeltent and the leadlight windows are aglow from without; she’s singing to the accompaniment of only her guitar, strumming a low stalking beat, her voice infused with a blues note — ‘going all Louis Armstrong on your arse’, as she says in a breathy undertone with a hint of chuckle — and the song is ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’, and it encapsulates everything, absolutely everything I’ve come here for.

    Oh yes, I’m a fan, and last night — the first of a three-gig run — was a demonstration of why. That face, lined and shadowed with a life at the lower end of the rock biz, an uncompromising life, that voice that carries so much emotion; and then that cheeky peek from under the hat’s brim, the eyes alight and round with amusement and wonder, and she could be 20, or 12.

    I love her shyness, her humility, her quirkiness, her freedom to make mistakes and to interrupt her songs to interject a comment or a laugh. I love the way she plays her way into a song and then — oh — she’s in it, and it’s real, rasping low notes that make you shiver, those highs that make you tremble. She looks, sounds and acts real — ‘I like … my stories true,’ she says at one stage, quoting a passage from her Rough Mix chap book, a smattering of autobiography and lyrics and behind-the-scenes that’s only crime is being too short.


    Last night’s gig opened with the recent Concrete Blonde release ‘Rosalie’, thrilled with ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, then sent a frisson with a spectacular version of ‘Mexican Moon’ — some flamenco notes, some Spanish, all heartfelt.

    She sang a song about a frog on a log that she wrote when she was 12 — pretty good little ditty, that — and the wedding song from the Aussie movie Candy, the first time she’d performed it, she said (‘I was shitting myself up here; I’m still shitting myself’).

    It was a freestyle playlist, snippets of tunes here and there including a grab of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ , anecdotes, requests, stretching back across her bands (primarily Concrete Blonde, her most successful venture) and solo work.

    The Pretty & Twisted tune ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ was stunning on the piano. There was a strong showing from the Bloodletting album, in addition to the titular song: ‘Joey’, Concrete Blonde’s big hit, and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, the Marc Moreland song that Johnette virtually owns due to her stirring renditions over the years, and a strident ‘I Don’t Need A Hero’. Her wonderful solo album Scarred was represented by ‘Just Like Time’. The gig ended with an a cappella rendition of ‘Mercedes Benz’, completing an earlier impression of a Joplin-like presence.

    Lord knows what I’ve missed. An hour was too short but deliciously long. She has two other gigs at the elegant, intimate Spiegeltent, an ideal venue for an acoustic performance from a genuine, and genuinely talented, performer.


  • Night 2 review
  • Night 3 review
  • Note: I’ve replaced an old PR shot of Johnette used in the original post with one taken on the third night after the audience was given permission to take photos for a period.

    Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at Northcote: a grand finale

    amanda palmer and grand theft orchestra posterThe 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).


    Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl — what a bright spark

    meow meow cabaret performerHumour, pathos, an awesome voice, a superb use of light and shade in all forms … oh Meow Meow, it was all over way too soon, the light burning twice as bright burning half as — no wait.

    We saw Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl at the Malthouse Theatre, that gorgeous old refurbed brewery in Melbourne’s Southbank, and it was a hot ticket. Not ‘too hot’, like the opening number sung in German and then English with true cabaret panache, but just the right kind of heiss: flirty, yes, and creative, and clever.

    I don’t want to say too much, because the show took turns I didn’t expect, in staging and lighting, and in musical direction. But there was at its core a social conscience anchored around the plight of children — hence the nod to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale — and in the wings superb support from a talented singer, Mitchell Butel, and a sharp four-piece band who added atmospherics with violin that were truly sensational.

    Meow Meow is so engaging, risque and personable and witty, making established one-liners and tired double entendres work anew. She swears for emphasis, not conversation. She does silence very well, and darkness, too. She pulls folks out of the audience and doesn’t take the piss, though she does tumble into some Teutonic instruction from time to time.

    The show went for 80 minutes and there were torches and light bulbs and a chandelier. It could not be confused with Phantom of the Opera although the singing was very good. There was a clever — damn, that word again — to a Melbourne moment that might not work in other cities, unless they’re equally as clueless when it comes to public transport.

    The Malthouse show runs till December 4 (I can recommend the pork belly if you’re dining beforehand, and isn’t it nice to be at a theatre where you can take your drink in?), and Meow Meow returns early next year for gigs in Melbourne’s Spiegeltent, and others’, too. Nom nom nom.