LIVE Opening Night w/ Sarah Blasko, Gareth Liddiard, Kram, Laura Jean @ Lower Town Hall, 13/01/11

Written by Michael Carr on January 18, 2011

Photos by C.Rale

Arriving late at Sydney’s Lower Town Hall, I was immediately shocked and disappointed. There was an open bar, and I had just spent an hour over the road at Sweeney’s drinking ‘cheap jugs.’ On top of this I had missed Laura Jean, and Kram was just finishing up.

Seated at his drums, Kram was playing standard blues riffs on an acoustic guitar, singing lines like ‘I’ve got eyes in the back of my head’ in his solid and rough voice, at the same time stomping out a flat four four rhythm on his kick drum. Putting down the guitar he then erupted into a drum solo, that if I’m not very much mistake was stolen part and parcel from John Bohnam‘s Moby Dick, if edited down a fair bit. Starting off playing with his his hands before picking up his sticks, he displayed a lot of skill and dexterity, if not much originality. Nevertheless, as I am a massive drum nerd, it was still very enjoyable to watch someone go ass wild on the skins.

Next up was Gareth Liddiard. Starting off playing the title track of his solo album Strange Tourist, moving on to I Don’t Ever Want To Change from The Drones‘ album Gala Mill, he at once captivated the entire audience. The man has a certain humble presence when on stage. I may only think this because I have a massive man crush on him, but I don’t think so. Watching him sing you feel he abandons himself to the sentiments expressed in his music, the tremulous and wild quality in his voice seemingly exorcising him of some inner turmoil or passion as he performs.

His voice, at times fractured, and rough, sounding as though he’s be gargling with bourbon in the mornings after a post-slumber ciggie, at others soft and melodic, would have to be one of the best in Australian music. His lyrics too put him on par with the likes of Nick Cave and Roland S. Howard.

The dynamics in his songs are what make them so effective, that he can bounce from quite contemplative moments to a caterwauling scream of angst and pain without seeming melodramatic or pretentious adding to his aura of honest confession. He is what all singer songwriters should aspire to, not so much in terms of music or lyrics, although they would do well to take heed of his proficiency in both, but in terms of spirit and conviction. How many times have you seem some flaxen haired hippy sitting with guitar in hand singing about the evils of capitalism or some dolled up model crooning about her broken heart and not believed a shred of what they were singing about. With Gareth, even when he’s singing about a character or a public figure you feel he’s singing about himself, and in truth, deep down he is. He’s singing about the part of himself he sees in others. As consumers we all look for ourselves in the work of others, and so too does Gareth look for himself in his own work even when writing about others.

He wrapped up his set after just two songs and my friends and I weren’t happy. In truth we had come down mainly to see him play (as well as write a review and take photos of course), and to have only gotten two songs seemed like a bit of a jip. Before we had too much time to stew in our juices of discontent though Sarah Blasko took to the stage, along with a pianist as accompaniment, and we were soon enthralled by her wistful pop.

I have always been a bit of a closet Blasko fan, ever since I saw her open up for The Polyphonic Spree at the Enmore Theatre in 2005. Having not really seen her since then, she blew me away letting loose with her impressive voice over minimal backing, and while some people in the past have criticised her for being bland or boring, on this night she resolutely dispelled any such opinions delivering a truly moving performance.

My friend made the comment during her recital of All I Want, that her voice at times sounds quite like a Theremin. While her voice does carry a lot more warmth than the instrument, it was still quite an accurate comment in regards to the sheer precision with which she sings. Her voice moves up and down between notes with gentle ease, holding them as if it were nothing. It’s rare I get to see a singer as talented as her sing with such space around her voice. Singers of her calibre being rare enough, and these days more often than not being bundled up with some pathetic electro/indie nonsense, it was a pleasure to be given the chance to revel in such splendid vocal talent.

We watched the rest of her set, it too finishing quite quickly, and were left to enjoy the exhibit. Made up of two sets of four screens, one set large an side by side in the open hall the others individually displayed in little viewing enclaves, Lower Town Hall has glowing with faint and ghostly light cast from the black and white clips.

To listen to the clips the visitors were handed wireless headphones with a tuning button to switch between screens, which meant the whole event made for a pretty interesting spectacle in terms of people watching. There was a group of girls who were having their own little pocket rave to Roisin Murphy‘s clip for her new single Momma’s Place (I ended up dancing as well, the song is great if not moving in the same way the best videos of the exhibit were, check it out here or below), while during Sarah Blasko’s set there was one particularly rude individual who was blatantly watching one of the screens rather than her performance. It all felt very strange, especially for my older friend, to whom the idea of mobile phones are still too Brave New World to deal with.

The exhibit itself was… well difficult to sum up. In certain cases, as with Gareth, Sarah, Warren Ellis, Martha and Rufus Wainwright or Ron Peno from Died Pretty, the clips really did showcase performers who transcend the role of a singer. This was the whole goal of the exhibit, to explore the appeal and talents of the sort of performer that, as Jasmin Tarasin who put the exhibit together put it in my interview with her, can “open up their heart and share the experience they’re experiencing with the audience.”

Watching these performers was great, but then there were people like Julian Hamilton from the Presets or Peaches who seemed out of place in that while I’m sure they give great energy filled performances on a stage in front of a few thousand people, seem to fall a bit flat against a blank white background. Now this may just be a matter of taste in some cases (in others like with Julian Hamilton it just felt like he was waiting for autotune to kick in, although props must be given to him for singing completely acapella) but still I feel like they cheapened what would have otherwise been a very moving exhibit. The opening night being not much more than an industry event (despite tickets being on sale at $50) I left, planning to come back in a few days times to experience the work free from distractions and my own intoxication.

When I returned to exhibit I found that while it was a lot easier to enjoy the exhibits I liked, and I was able to watch some of the performances I hadn’t had a chance to see last time, I still found that some of the other videos didn’t move me, and seemed to lack the quality that Tarasin was looking to capture. I suppose it’s ignorant to expect an exhibit like this to be, in lack of a better word perfect, especially considering this was Tarasin first go at something like this (her background being in music videos, documentaries and commercials) but I feel that the one failure of the work was it’s ambition, both in scale and in terms of going after certain high profile artists who weren’t suited to the stripped back format of the clips. Had this been a smaller installation, maybe put up for free and not needing some silly industry showcase of an opening night, and had only the artists whose style of performing fit the medium Tarasin chose, I feel that that sense of shared feeling and experience would have been much better achieved.

In saying all of this, I did enjoy the work and I would recommend you go see it, if only to come back to this article and leave some comments about what you thought, as I’m eager to get as many people’s take on it as possible. In the end though, amidst all the flaws, the exhibit, or parts of the exhibit moved me, but then again so do really good youtube videos.

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