Eddie Chacon and John Carrol Kirby headlined Open Air at the Yards at Melbourne‘s Collingwood Yards on Saturday, 25th March. Billy Burgess reviews.
Collingwood Yards took over and redeveloped the former Collingwood TAFE site before opening to the public in March 2021. The organisation’s manifesto outlines its aims to counteract the “crisis of affordable arts space” in Melbourne.
The Yards is now home to community radio station PBS FM, as well as Music Victoria, Open House Melbourne and youth music organisation The Push. It houses the trendy bar and online radio station Hope St Radio, rooftop bar Runner Up, record shop Licorice Pie and a raft of independent arts organisations and studios occupied by practising artists.
Hope St and Runner Up were both involved in Open Air at the Yards, a one-day music festival spread across the arts precinct’s courtyard and the two bars. The event was put together in coordination with nascent New Year’s festival When Pigs Fly and club promoters Lucid. The lineup included several local and touring DJs, including NTS’ Shy One, as well as live performances from Oakland house and alt-R&B producer Space Ghost, Bristolian singer-songwriter Katy J Pearson and LA musicians John Carroll Kirby and Eddie Chacon.
Eddie Chacon – ‘Trouble’
The latter act made a concrete impression on the modest but supremely friendly crowd that gathered in the chilly courtyard around dusk. Chacon and Kirby started working together not half a decade ago. Kirby had been making a name for himself as a keyboardist and pianist to the stars, working on releases by Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis and Harry Styles, to name a few.
Kirby struck up a particularly rewarding creative partnership with Solange, appearing on a few songs from her stellar 2016 release, A Seat at the Table, before taking a more central role in the production of 2019’s When I Get Home.
In the midst of all this, Chacon – who was one half of the pop and soul duo, Charles & Eddie, in the early 90s – approached Kirby about working on his debut solo album, and his first album of any kind in a quarter of a century.
Kirby – whose CV also includes work with the likes of Alex Cameron, Connan Mockasin and Kirin J Callinan – recognised Chacon’s bountiful songwriting and vocal gifts and committed himself to the project. The result was 2020’s Pleasure, Joy and Happiness, an album credited solely to Chacon, but one that draws its strength from the pair’s tight-knit partnership.
Eddie Chacon – ‘Holy Hell’
Songs from Pleasure, Joy and Happiness filled the setlist, including the understated, spacey soul number ‘Trouble’, which appeared early in the performance and summoned the crowd closer to the stage and closer to each other. Chacon was all smiles, performing in a zipped-up track jacket with a picture of a cat on its back and his customary rectangle-framed black sunglasses.
“I could never have dreamed of being here,” he said, reflecting on how his music career was all but finished before he connected with Kirby. Kirby, perhaps caught off guard by the early autumn chill, started the show in a yellow puffer jacket, stationed behind an electric piano, a synth and an array of effects units and trigger pads.
Chacon’s second solo album, Sundown, is out on Friday, 31st March. It’s another comprehensive collaboration with Kirby, and Chacon’s first release via LA tastemakers Stones Throw Records (who also release Kirby’s solo records). Several Sundown tracks featured in the setlist, including the spry funk tune ‘Holy Hell’, which sounded akin to a more impressionistic Thundercat.
Kirby’s virtuosic abilities were made manifest throughout, especially when engaging in a couple of extended jams with the show’s special guest, local saxophonist and flautist Nikodimos. Chacon showed off the higher end of his blemish-free falsetto during ‘Sundown’, proving the time away from the spotlight hasn’t diminished his ability to make tangible connections with his audiences.
Chacon ended the show by inviting us all to sing along to the title lyric from ‘Pleasure, Joy and Happiness’. The crowd, while tentative at first, soon got the hang of it, and Chacon’s beaming expression indicated the song was having its desired effect.