Monday, April 28, 2014

Aaron Neville/Dr John & The Nite Trippers, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014

It's mighty close to fifty years since New Orleans session musician and songwriterMac Rebennack relocated to Los Angeles, where he subsequently reinvented himself as Dr. John the Night Tripper. The departure came as the result of substance-related issues with New Orleans District Attorney Big Jim Garrison, who'd set out on a moralistic crusade to clean up the Crescent City and there was a significant musical diaspora that had coagulated around Harold Batiste in Los Angeles.

That new persona was largely an avenue to create an earner to support his fellow exiles, most of whom have passed on, and when you dig back over the man's biography there's a definite feeling that he's lucky to still be among us, and coming up towards age 74 a degree of frailty should come as no surprise.

And, for the first part of an hour-and-a-bit set that frailty seemed fairly evident. The figure who appeared after an enthusiastic introduction shuffled to the keyboards and ran through a couple of fairly obvious suspects (Iko Iko and Didn't He Ramble) before venturing onto the recent discography for a couple of numbers that gradually picked things up. Goodnight Irene, however, rocked quite magnificently, and things definitely took off with a moody reading of Walk on Gilded Splinters.

You didn't quite get the mists rising off the bayou, and the ornate architecture didn't actually start sprouting Spanish moss, but both phenomena weren't far away.

And having kicked things in towards overdrive the vibe continued through In the Right Place, Let the Good Times Roll and Big Chief before Such a Night brought the Doctor's set to an appropriate finish. Took a while to get going, sure, but from midway through things were just fine, and I, for one, was grateful to have been there for it. Walk on Gilded Splinters was just magnificent, one of the very best things I've seen or heard in a long time.

It's also close to fifty years since Aaron Neville's Tell It Like It Is delivered a hit that was, effectively, his bread and butter until the Neville Brothers shot to prominence. The passage of time, one might expect, would have taken its toll on that distinctive vocal tone, and while he's just a tad lower these days the melisma and vibrato are still there.

But it's a voice that needs breathing space, which it gets with the fraternal outfit where the four Neville Brothers share things around in the vocal department. Here, with brother Charles sharing a bit of the spotlight with some moody saxophone and a rather decent bunch of instrumentalists around him there was room for a breather or two, and he actually got to leave the stage during an impressive run through an instrumental that might not have been Caravan, but if it wasn't it was an almost identical twin.

A glance down the set list will reveal an interesting selection from  what has become a reasonably extensive back catalogue, covering most of the obvious bases, very much the Aaron Neville set I'd have wanted to see if I was seeing him once, though I would have liked something else from My True Story in there.

Excellent band, front man in pretty good voice, slightly one paced, perhaps, but that's what he does, and he does it rather well.

Having been to the same venue for Elvis Costello & The Imposters the night before there was an interesting contrast in the demographics. The Dr. John/Aaron Neville crowd was noticeably older, and significantly less cross-generational and given the selections of material probably unlikely to change. One suspects that, should the opportunity to see either of them again in an hour and a bit setting neither set list is going to change all that much, which explains a conclusion that I'm not likely to see either of them again.

One wouldn't anticipate either of them making their way to Townsville or Mackay, and while they're both likely to be back in the country for Bluesfest, opportunities to catch them will depend on what else is going on around whatever times they're playing Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. Given the excuse to be in any of those centres around the time they're playing the possibility is there but it's not as if I'm tempted to see them at every opportunity because I know there's likely to be something very interesting on the set list each night.

Dr John & The Nite Trippers, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Intro: The Doctor Is In
Iko Iko > Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me
Didn't He Ramble
Kingdom Of Izzness
Getaway > Guitar (St James Infirmary)
I'm the Big Shot
Cotton fields > Goodnight Irene
Walk on Gilded Splinters
In the Right Place
Let the Good Times Roll
Big Chief
Such a Night

Aaron Neville, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Instrumental intro: Besame Mucho
Stand By Me > Cupid > There Goes My Baby > Chain Gang > Stand By Me
Bird on the Wire > Free as a Bird
Everybody Plays the Fool
I Don't Know Much
Don't Go, Please Stay
Ain't No Sunshine
This Magic Moment
Instrumental: Caravan?
Three Little Birds > Stir It Up
Slow Down
Drift Away
A Change is Gonna Come
Down By the Riverside
Tell It Like It Is
Amazing Grace

Elvis Costello & The Imposters State Theatre Sydney 23 April 2014

At the risk of sounding like some been there, done that, got the t-shirt, wrote the book, waiting to star in the movie type, I have to say that the most interesting aspect of the fifth Costello and The Imposters concert I've caught since early December came before and after the actual concert.

That says more about Hughesy and the circumstances in which I live than it does about Costello but it says a fair bit about the man as well as quite a lot about the way popular music has morphed over the past fifty years.

All of which is interesting, at least from where I'm sitting.

Actually, sitting is a key factor in the experience this time around, since Elvis had a significant section of the crowd up, out of their seats and down in front of the stage very early in the piece. It was fairly obvious he was playing to, and feeding off the enthusiasm of, those right under his nose, which might affect your perception if you were one of those disinclined to stand who happened to have a seat towards the front of the stalls.

That was me, more or less, but the occupants of the seats at the end of Row L had headed for the front so it was easy enough to move to the side for an uninterrupted view of proceedings.

So you might have been underwhelmed if you weren't down towards the front, and you may well have been underwhelmed by a show that was slightly shorter (twenty-five numbers, as opposed to thirty-plus from the recent Spinning Songbook shows in Japan) than others you've experienced, or by a set list that was light on for a few of the usual suspects that seemed to be automatic inclusions in the Spinning Songbook roster, or by what you might see as a relative dearth of obscurities, or...

But you pays your money and you takes your chance, as the saying goes, and while what you'll get isn't always totally, like stellar, man, you won't get a performance that's phoned in, either. It all comes down to the interaction between expectation and on the night, doesn't it?

Cast an eye down the set list and you'll note a significant (five out of twenty-five) presence of Wise Up Ghost material, which might interact with some of those absences noted previously, but it is the current album, even if it isn't the current album by this band. What is interesting, as it has been since the first of the Spinning Songbook shows in Japan is how well those songs work with The Imposters rather than The Roots. Despite the fuss about Wise Up Ghost it wasn't quite the departure from previous form that some people painted it to be. I'll point The Dubious Reader towards When I Was Cruel and Cruel Smile and rest my case.

No, a good two hours, an interesting set list that didn't seem to hold too many surprises and a performance that was as committed as he almost invariably is. That almost invariably is based on eight experiences, none of which went anywhere near obviously phoned in.

And you expect a bit of variation when you're looking at an act that isn't pre-programmed.  Compare a Costello show, any Costello show, to, say Leonard Cohen, who I've seen deliver close to the exact same show live (three years apart, and substantially the same as the Live in London DVD) and you know you're going to get variation. The question is how much is delivered, and how much you expect.

Consulting my Costello show song matrix (eight shows, 116 items) there were a couple of songs I hadn't encountered live before (Watch Your Step, Stations of the Cross, Blame it On Cain) as well as the heartfelt Jesse Winchester tribute (Quiet About It, Payday) and another seven that I'd only encountered twice, so I walked out a very contented punter, thank you very much.

But when it comes to looking back on the evening the rendezvous with The Pope of Pop and the early-twenties Popelet Twins will figure large in the memories. I've run across Popey before each of the three shows I've caught in Sydney, and a couple of pre-show beers at The Marble Bar isn't quite a ritual but could definitely head that way.

They've changed the backstage access arrangements at the State Theatre, which has effectively put the kibosh on Costello stalking activities and affected the post-show discussion, but what we had, with Hughesy, Popey and Papal offspring gathered around a table in what my learned colleague has described as sort of like the Vatican in pub form was an interesting mix of musical generations.

I go back to the halcyon days of the mid- to late-sixties. Popey doesn't quite go back that far but had older siblings with similar musical interests who did (from what I can gather) and seems to have been fairly thorough in giving his offspring an interesting musical experience along the way. They were eight or nine when they got their first dose of live Elvis, and obviously don't mind fronting up for more.

I don't get to hang out with too many folks with similar musical interests, and when I do they tend to be people from more or less the same generation, so the presence of a couple of well-informed and appreciative youngsters is bound to be something memorable.

Particularly if they're sufficiently well-informed (or polite enough, take your pick) to agree that an Easybeats/Purple Hearts tour of North Queensland would have been an interesting experience and one you'd regret having missed.

It contrasted nicely with the demographic profile at the Dr John/Aaron Neville show the following night, where a youngish couple who might have been in their mid-twenties walking down the aisle towards their seats would have reduced the average age in the audience by about half a day.

All of which explains that first paragraph, dunnit?

Accidents Will Happen
Brilliant Mistake
Everyday I Write the Book
Watch Your Step
Stations of the Cross
Ascension Day
Viceroys Row
Suit of Lights
Good Year for the Roses
Blame it On Cain
Come the Meantimes
Watching the Detectives
Walk Us Uptown
I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea
I Want You

Quiet About It
Cinco Minutos Con Vos
Oliver's Army
Sugar Won't Work
What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Harry Manx "Om Suite Ohm" (4*)

A glance at the titles in the discography will suggest a certain preoccupation that’s reflected in descriptions of Manx as a Mysticssippi blues man though it probably wouldn’t spring to mind as you run through the African groove that drives Further Shore (co-written with African inspired Byron Bay based colleague Yeshe) and started life as an instrumental before Manx came up with the words. Take a listen to the words, however, and you’re right in that philosophical mode though it takes a while for the Indian tonalities Clayton Doley’s Hammond B3 drives things along.

The enhanced instrumentation continues through Way Out Back’s dreamy didjeridoo-driven excursion through the ancient Australian landscape, with lyrics spoken by Gunjurra Waitairie as Manx’s ethereal slide evokes the vastness of the Nullarbor and that B3 fills in underneath.

His take on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme emphasises the jazzman’s connection to Indian music (the main theme to the piece is taken from a traditional South Indian folk tune, or dhun). While Manx doesn’t attempt the whole four-part suite, using the mantra in Acknowledgement as the basis for his exploration of the piece works well as a slide exercise that ties the blues tradition to classical Indian ragas.

That exploration that continues through The Blues Dharma and All Fall Down as Manx lets the Eastern influences gradually rise to predominance. The same atmosphere continues through Saya, the atmospheric The Moon Rose Up and Carry My Tears, written for a friend who had passed on, reprised from his  from  his 2011 Strictly Whatever collaboration with Kevin Breit.

Reuben's Train is another return to something from earlier in his career. It appeared on Manx’s debut album (Dog My Cat) while Stay Tuned winds things up in a suitably subtle, understated manner.

There'a nothing particularly new hereabouts, no revelations or jaw-dropping moments but a few tweaks and quiet additions to Manx's sonic palette (the use of violins and other members of the string family is a first) add subtle light and shade to Manx's quiet virtuosity. While it won't jump out of the speakers and demand attention there's plenty on offer for the discerning listener, and repeated listens will deliver rewards.