Review: Binja-Bilya-Warden by Bradley Kickett ·
Paper Mountain, 21 March ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
When we think of water, we tend to think of it as a singular entity. It moves and shifts, but ultimately, it’s all part of the same whole. Bradley Kickett’s abstract paintings at Paper Mountain show water as multifarious: a teeming, shining, sometimes muddy, sometimes pure, collection of bodies, none of which are really the same.
Kickett’s paintings follow the waters that move from inland, east of York, through Mount Stirling, and the Avon River by Northam, which turns into the Swan, ultimately feeding into the ocean. By tracking the water’s journey, he displays the differences between waters; the salt flats, the clear streams and the brackish mud.
Kickett has a very distinctive style of dot painting combined with paint pouring, so the colours mix and meld together to show the nuance and movement of the water. He states that he is more interested in the formal and technical qualities of painting than that of symbolism or storytelling, and the paintings’ detail and style is intricate and precise as one can be when pouring paint.
The paintings require a lot of time spent on each individual image to fully appreciate the differences, so at times it feels like perhaps a few less paintings might have been a more effective choice for a solo exhibition. However, taking the time to look at them individually is rewarding, as it’s surprising how different they all appear in the details. Bodies of water are like any other bodies, with bumps, swells, and colours that are unique and deeply personal, and Kickett portrays these bodies with precision and focus.
Review: The Corsini Collection – A Window on Italy ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
The Corsini Collection is inextricably tied to one family and one city – the Corsinis, in Florence – but it is also part of a larger narrative that encompasses several major events of the modern era. The exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) provides viewers with an introduction to Italian art and the families whose collections enhanced and guided the narrative of art history through the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
It’s hard to think of Italian art without thinking of the cities that fostered these movements, and I was struck by the way in which Florence emerges throughout the exhibition as a personality, almost a family member of the Corsinis themselves. From an image of the fanatic Savonarola, who gripped the city with religious zeal, being burned in the square of the Piazza della Signoria, to extensive family portraits with the Arno flowing through fields out the window, Florence is more a character in this family drama than simply a backdrop. Even the family dog, who provides a sweet wall companion to children as they walk through the exhibition, is named Arno.
Walking through the exhibition I couldn’t help but feel a fizz of excitement – it is pretty amazing to think that currently there are works by masters of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, such as Botticelli, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio, here in Perth. The exhibition is divided thematically to provide a general guide to art of the periods as well as the lifestyles of the rich and powerful families such as the Corsinis. It is, of course, quite different viewing these works on the walls of the brutalist building that is AGWA, as opposed to those of a Florentine palazzo. Huge decaled images of the palace interiors, however, provide a helpful backdrop to pieces that could otherwise appear a little dull without context, such as the family dining set, pots and pans, and a games table. The paintings are heavy on portraits, particularly of the family, and the centre room is the locus of the exhibition, with the Botticelli tondo Madonna and Child with Six Angels (c 1500) taking pride of place.
Renaissance and Baroque art can sometimes feel far removed from our everyday realities, but throughout the exhibition it becomes apparent that the Corsinis were as affected by historical events as anyone. Unlike the Medicis, the other main family of Florence, the Corsini line survived into the modern era, and it’s fascinating to imagine what it must feel like to have your ancestors so elegantly portrayed around you, and a treat to see the Renaissance and Baroque works give way to photography and portraiture of the 1950s and 60s. It’s also interesting to see the details of our more recent history enter their narrative, most strikingly with the bullet hole through the head of Guercino’s Saint Andrea Corsini (1630), fired by a German soldier who, thankfully, did not realise the painting was hung on a false wall, behind which the remainder of the Corsini family’s art collection was hidden.
It’s these touches of drama that give the exhibition its warmth, turning it into something that’s not just a line-up of famous names, but a show about one family who, despite being born into a life of power and privilege, had a real, abiding commitment to the art of their home city and preserving it for future generations to enjoy.
Review: “Ode to Joy”, Asher Fisch conducting West Australian Symphony Orchestra & Chorus ·
Program: Beethoven’s Zur Namensfeier: overture; Fantasia for Piano, Chorus & Orchestra Choral Fantasy; Symphony No.9 Choral ·
Perth Concert Hall, 15 March ·
Review by Leon Levy ·
All-Beethoven evenings are common enough, often based on the safe formula of overture/concerto/symphony: good for both box-office and a contented audience. But turn that formula on its head, and suddenly the jaded listener finds her or his antennae quivering.
And so it was that on Thursday night we had WASO living more dangerously than the gentle “Ode to Joy” title of the evening implied: for it represented the musical equivalent of an increasingly rich but novel meal based only on one central ingredient.
The Zur Namensfeier overture, from 1815, has never established itself with the public and yet, undistinguished as it is, a convincing case was made for it as an effective concert opener for a programme such as this.
The Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra was written in 1808 as the concluding work in a benefit concert for Beethoven himself, an event of epic length held on a bitter Viennese winter’s night. Even with Beethoven at the keyboard, it’s hard to imagine how this rather strange composition would have been received. By contrast, on a balmy Perth evening not only was the work given room to breathe, but having our esteemed principal conductor at the keyboard brought an additional focus and frisson to the proceedings. It was an extraordinarily unusual but daring and imaginative act to programme this work on the same bill as the Choral Symphony, which it rather pre-echoes. Has this ever been done previously? Certainly not in Perth; but it proved fascinating to have the two works performed in sequence.
After a somewhat rambling piano opening, the orchestra introduces – rather pleasurably as we sense its approach—the “proto” choral theme which is then carried in variation form by various instrumental combinations before the vocal soloists are eased in, followed by the full choir. There was much enjoyment to be derived by the listener in all of this, as the unusual work flashed vividly and satisfyingly into life.
But having strolled happily through the foothills, we now came to the Everest that is the Ninth Symphony. For all that the “Ode to Joy” is done to death, in the context of the work as a whole, all sense of over-exposure withers. A beautiful unfolding of the opening movement, by turns dramatic and lyrical, was followed by a finely controlled scherzo, almost gossamer at times, but always with a strong and satisfying momentum, evoking both joy and drama. Unrushed, but still with a perceptible sense of moving forward, the slow movement sang its way with an unforced beauty, setting the scene for the choral conclusion. And what a triumphant exposition that was, the audience in the very grip of the music as the first quiet statement of the famous theme was followed by oh-so-refined re-statements until the blazing tune could be held back no longer, or so it felt! The firm, gleaming tone of bass David Parkin immediately set the standard for the remaining vocal contribution from the well-matched soloists Rachelle Durkin, Fiona Campbell and Henry Choo, and a very fine WASO Chorus.
In sum, the assembled forces (including Naomi Johns and Perry Joyce in the Fantasy) provided what, even at this early stage in the season, will surely prove to be one of the highlights of 2018. But equal congratulations must be offered to the artistic planners whose flair and imagination brought us a programme that was so unpredictable, stimulating and so worthy a tribute to Beethoven, whose own share in the universal brotherhood of the “Ode to Joy” was, after all, comparatively meagre.
One would normally have to go far to hear a concert of this calibre: fortunately there are two further performances – subject to ticket availability – and then an ABC broadcast on 24 March.
Review: Handbrake’s “Chaos Controlled” ·
35 Cheriton St, East Perth, Friday 9 March ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·
Near the disused East Perth power station, nestled amongst a cluster of industrial buildings, is the warehouse space in which Handbrake’s “Chaos Controlled” was held, the iridescent colours of his art works popping against the foreground of the street’s grey and rust.
“Chaos Controlled” was the perfect name for this short-lived show by street artist Handbrake (real name Hans Bruechle). Within a carefully curated space, it was both a showcase of the subversive and a celebration of the alternative. From the vividly painted vodka bottle skulls to the eye-catching sequence of skateboard decks, there was no shortage of visual stimuli. Video footage of Handbrake at work – projected on a screen hung from the warehouse ceiling – revealed a detailed process of design, planning and execution.
Handbrake’s trademark combination of quirky and vibrant came through in his use of colour, emphasised by the bright palettes used to bring the jumbled compositions to life. Several illustrated pieces that were exhibited feature drawn outlines in heavy black, almost like a colouring-in page, which are then paired with neon colour. This is not paint-by-numbers, but colour applied in freeform flow. There is something evocative about the space left uncoloured, as if reminding us that not everything needs to be treated and covered for full effect. The surfboards that were on display are drawn and painted on in a similar fashion, transforming a blank and practical object into art you’d want to take home and show off to others. Turn around and there was even a motorcycle featuring detailed illustration on its panels – you can literally ride this graphic art!
A playful highlight was the triptych of Australian Playboy covers, real covers reimagined and given the “Handbrake” branding treatment in a street update on traditional pop art. Instead of the Ben-Day dots of a Lichtenstein, here we find hand-drawn tattoo motifs in black. Also tongue-in-cheek and wonderfully constructed were the sculpture pieces, spot on in their wit and observational humour, with a “Facebook like” button placed as bait on a metal spring trap (the dangers of social media) and a rotary dial phone with a built in lightbulb (“illuminating conversation”).
Had these pieces been displayed on spotless plinths in a silent, air-conditioned white gallery, would they have had the same effect? The art does speak for itself. But part of the joy of “Chaos Controlled” was its positioning as a proudly street-smart exhibition. With many in the high heels and expensive suits of a conventional opening, punters were more than comfortable weaving around a motorcycle and getting up and personal with a skateboard deck.
Accessible and just plain fun, Handbrake’s exhibition made for a great night out and I look forward to seeing more of his works.
Perth Festival review: Lee Fields & the Expressions + Tank & the Bangas ·
Chevron Gardens, 4 March ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·
The organisers of Perth Festival had a huge task planning the final show at Chevron Gardens. Not only was it the closing party of the international arts festival, but it signified the end of Perth’s summer festival season, following the conclusion of Fringe World last week. Could they fill the venue with their choice of artists? How would they give the punters a night to remember?
Contrary to programming norms, Lee Fields & the Expressions were first, despite their position as headline act. Fields, a veteran soul singer from North Carolina, USA, was welcomed on stage by his six-piece band, the Expressions. They kicked things off with the swaggering, brass-infused number, “I Still Got It”. Fields strode out, dressed in a fine black evening suit, grabbed the mic, and – quite simply – owned the stage. At 67 years of age his confidence and level of showmanship were the kind you don’t see in younger performers.
Fields and his band were experts at engaging the crowd, wholesome and cheesy like musicians and entertainers I’ve seen only in film clips from the sixties and seventies. They made us shout, sing, dance, and wave our arms in the air, rewarding our willingness with lashings of praise. They singled out different clusters of the audience: “these happy people right here – put your hands up!” and “those beautiful people, way back there, y’all got SOUL!”.
Fields, who is often nicknamed “Little JB” for his resemblance to the legendary James Brown, made the audience swoon with the richness and surprising warmth of his voice in slower, Hammond organ-drenched numbers like “Magnolia”, “Honey Dove” and “Paralyzed”. The whole audience was grooving and clapping on the backbeat in the more audacious “How I Like It” and “Don’t Walk”. True to their aptly-titled new album – “Special Night” – Lee Fields and the Expressions promised, delivered, and left us wanting more.
At this point I must admit I had little to no knowledge of any of these musicians before attending the show on Sunday. I once shared a video of Tank & the Bangas – their winning submission for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest in 2017 – but I otherwise had no idea what I’d signed up for.
It seemed no one else was prepared for the tumultuous musical rollercoaster that is Tank & the Bangas either. At least three people turned around to me, mouths agape, exclaiming “whaaaaat?!” during their first few songs. Though to call them “songs” is really underselling the whole experience. Lead vocalist Tarriona Ball (Tank) burst onto stage while the rest of the band (the Bangas) concocted a flurry of synth, drums, sax and bass against a backdrop of manic stage lighting. There was no epilepsy warning but there should have been. Tank led the troops with her impressive vocal ability, moving effortlessly between rambling Nicki Minaj-esque rap; soulful nineties R&B lyricism; sweet, heady, girly folk; impassioned ecclesiastical cries; thoughtful, measured verses of slam poetry – often without warning.
The New Orleans act is a fascinating slice of music coming out of that city today: rooted in jazz, wild and free-spirited, a celebration of community and diversity, a product of all the musical styles that have flourished there. But these relative new-comers to the music scene (they found their fame online) are not afraid to explore darker personal and political themes. The epic twelve-minute “You So Dumb”, which left the audience speechless, is a journey through romantic disappointment, self-rejection and grief. The touching, confessional “Rollercoaster” (about fear and self-doubt) is a mix of poetry and stunning vocalism backed by smooth, new-age slow jams.
By the end of the night, Tank & the Bangas had the audience jumping and fist pumping to the frenetic “Hey Hey Hey!” as they lead the final hurrah – blasting, banging, roaring and slapping with full exuberance. I understood then why they had been programmed as the final act.
Good move, Perth Festival.
Pictured top are Tank and the Bangas. Photo: Cam Campbell.
Perth Festival review: Repatriate by Latai Taumoepeau ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·
At the end of a hall I’m filed into a single line with the crowd as we move into a room to view Latai Taumoepeau’s Repatriate, displayed in a dark tunnel-like structure. It’s the opening night of Fremantle Art Centre’s Perth Festival programming, and Repatriate sits alongside the main event, Amy Sharrocks’ “The Museum of Water”.
When it’s my turn I move into the narrow tunnel, where I’m presented with five iPad screens, each depicting a different stage in a recording of the Australian-Tongan artist/dancer’s 90-minute durational performance. The rhythmic soundtrack accompanying the work is encompassing, yet muffled, and I feel as if I am submersed in water.
The claustrophobic installation mimics Taumoepeau’s situation. Contained into a Perspex tank no larger than a standard shower, she performs a Pacific Island dance as the tank fills with water around her. The dance is an amalgamation of choreography informed by multiple Pacific Island cultures, including her own Tongan heritage. Her wrists, ankles and waist are encircled by yellow floaties, playfully referencing the body adornments for which Islander dancers are known.
As the work progresses, the water level in the tank begins to rise, and Taumoepeau’s movement becomes laboured. Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, her movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties. These pull her body towards the surface, a hindrance rather than a help. Perhaps these ineffectual “aids” symbolise the limited resources that small island nations, such as Tonga, have to combat the effects of climate change (in comparison to the larger, more powerful nations that have caused the problems).
As Taumoepeau is submerged, details of the dance are lost, a poignant metaphor for the loss of culture that will occur as sea levels rise around Pacific Island nations and residents are displaced from their homes and traditions.
According to the wall text, the small screens on which the work is displayed recall “souvenir postcards depicting Indigenous people as primitive stereotypes inhabiting island paradises”. This format also allows for an intimate experience, an almost one-on-one viewing. Rather than displaying a lengthy screen work as a grand projection, as is common in galleries, this series of postcard-like glimpses into the work provides a sense of the entire 90 minute performance in a manner that is both efficient and engaging.
Repatriate is a powerful performance work, although it deserves a more prominent placement than its hall-end location. Latai Taumoepeau presents a compelling art work that draws attention to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels not only on the Pacific Islands, but the world. The use of the artist’s own body to demonstrate this impact, paired with the intimate setting of the small screens and confined space is both humanising and commanding.
Perth Festival review: The Second Woman by Nat Randall and Anna Breckon ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 3 March ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
How many ways can you say the words: I love you?
In sarcasm; anger; desperation; with nonchalance; with love.
Nat Randall’s revelatory performance at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art was a study in the nuances of language and in epic theatre. Randall began the show at 3pm on Saturday and performed the same, fairly short scene with 100 different men over a period of 24 hours. 24 hours! Is she mad? Maybe. But wow, it was good.
The scene is inspired by a very similar one from the John Cassavete classic, Opening Night. In her version, Randall is a woman alone in what appears to be a hotel room. She is visited by a man (well, 100 men), her partner. They exchange about ten minutes of sparse dialogue, parsing some of the details of their relationship. They dance, they drink, the man leaves. This short exchange was performed over and over and over, separated by intervals of ten minutes during which the packed audience could leave, chat, or stay. Most chose to stay, many for an hour. Some stoic souls stayed for the whole fraught adventure.
Randall is a Sydney-based performance artist and a core member of the collectives Hissy Fit and Team MESS. She’s no stranger to Perth audiences, having performed most recently in last year’s Proximity Festival. She performed The Second Woman in Hobart’s famed Dark Mofo last year and in the Next Wave Festival in 2016 for which the piece was created.
Randall is incredible to watch. Taking her cues from each new sparring partner, she changes the tone of the same piece as easily as you or I might change underwear. The first iteration I saw was bursting with humour – the audience breaking into laughs at every second line. The second was heartfelt, intimate. It felt like we shouldn’t be there, hanging on each word. Another was a scene of fatigued sadness, of love gone old and stale. In each scene of course, the dialogue was almost identical. The dramatic tension of the work arises from the chemistry between the players, and the audience’s concern (or investment) in the welfare of Randall. (When) will she falter? When will she get to go the toilet? Is she wearing special senior’s knickers? (Answer: she has a 15 minute break every two hours)
The male players were chosen from a general call-out made through the Festival’s publicity channels. They called for men of diverse ages and backgrounds with non-performers specifically encouraged to apply. Of course, some of those who were featured were certainly actors, but many (most?) were not. They were blokes who might otherwise be in the audience…in some cases wonderfully unwitting of the thrills of live performance. In preparation, each was given a script with the barest of stage directions. They knew where to move, what to say and do, but the open question was how. And therein lies the power of the piece. I love you. I love you. I love you. It was genuinely surprisingly to see how ten minutes of dialogue could be interpreted in such radically different ways. How a tone can change an outcome.
The set, designed by Future Method Studio is a thing of great beauty. A boxed room, red and lushly lit with the fourth wall sheared off for our viewing pleasure. It feels a little Lynchian, as does Randall in her red fitted frock and tragically blonde wig. This room dominates only half the stage with the other half of PICA’s black box taken up with a large screen – each scene is filmed in real time by two camera operators who hover just outside the room. Randall’s collaborator for this project is Anna Breckon, a film writer and director who is the co-creator of The Second Woman. It’s Breckon directing the footage as it gets projected onto the adjacent screen, resulting in a very unusual cinematic experience that is almost as compelling as the live action happening next door.
Audience members came and went. And the line to get in grew ever larger (though I’m betting there was no line at 3am). I wanted to get in for a third viewing – but alas, by that time, word had well and truly spread and the line snaked outside PICA. A small band of brave ones (mostly artists themselves as I understand it) stayed for the full experience. I wish I had.
Brave, intense, strange. These are a few of my favourite things.
Perth Festival review: Ensemble Al Nabolsy & the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus White Spirit ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 3 March ·
Review by Louisa Wales ·
It’s not every day that a well-heeled audience at Perth’s His Majesty’s Theatre gets itself into a clapping, rhythmic frenzy jamming with a bunch of Sufi musicians and whirling dervish dancers.
But when Perth Festival’s sold-out two night exclusive event White Spirit came to town last Friday and Saturday evenings, the rapture was catching.
The six musicians, three dancers (from Konya, Turkey) and Tunisian street artist Shoof created in their 80 minute set an utterly transporting and highly poetic portal into the mysterious and yearning world of the Sufi faith. Combining songs of praise, Sufi poems and devotional invocations with the calligraphic live painting of Shoof and the vertigo-defying incessant spinning of the Whirling Dervishes, White Spirit was an exquisitely beautiful window onto a world both ancient and contemporary.
Hailing from Damascus in war-ravaged Syria, Ensemble Al Nabolsy – led by Noureddine Khourchid, the son of a Syrian Sufi sheik – evoked both a time and place, and a spiritual state, so far from that of the audience that at times it felt as though we were taking part in something quite voyeuristic.
The act of presenting Middle Eastern mysticism and spirituality as art and performance to viewers from the West led to some uncomfortable tensions in the experience. Was the audience just “othering” the heck out of these people, exoticising their authentic religious beliefs and practices? And why were the Sufi singers, dancers and artist presenting their practices and religious beliefs as a travelling show anyway?
Beneath the captivating, thrilling spectacle, it was all – in short – rather loaded. And yet, by the end, White Spirit’s nominal exoticism and our consuming voyeurism were – albeit briefly – broken down as the audience summoned the artists back for a spontaneous encore, and then clapped themselves into an escalating frenzy of abandonment.
Then the lights went on and some in the audience looked a bit sheepish. The realisation hit home that however sensually engaging this spectacle had just been – the mystical music, the trance-like dancing, the indecipherable exquisite white calligraphy painted by Shoof – we were still on the outside of the faith and mystical experience they were all evoking.
While acknowledging the indisputable beauty of both White Spirit’s components and its totality, the problematic nature of commodifying a spirituality and its devotion left this reviewer wondering if next year festival goers will be packing His Maj to the brim to hear Hillsong Church – and if we do, will we clap ourselves into a devotional frenzy then too?
Perth Festival review: Damien Jalet & Kohei Nawa’s Vessel ·
State Theatre Centre, 2 March ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
“It sounds like crickets,” a woman behind me whispered loudly. “And frogs.”
There’s something delicious about making an audience wait. In our restless age of instantaneous gratification, making an audience just sit there is a powerful (but surprisingly under-used) theatrical device. No, you can’t look at your phone; no, you can’t talk; you’ve just got to wait. Was the waiting a clue that we were in for a transformative experience? Was it the theatre-makers attempting to prepare us?
Nothing really prepares you for this.
Imagine if David Lynch and Hieronymus Bosch got together and created a dance work. I use the term dance loosely. Vessel is a collaboration between Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet and Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. If you extend the analogy I’m not sure who is Lynch and who is Bosch, but the product is as startling and compelling as you might imagine. Employing a group of incredibly proficient Japanese dancers, as well as Australian Nicola Leahey and Greek dancer Aimilios Arapoglou, Vessel takes us on a journey into, as my companion aptly put it: “the primordial ooze.”
The seven dancers first appear melded together in three groupings. Their heads are obscured by the contortions of their bodies, any humanizing feature is neatly tucked away. The stage has been transformed into a pool filled with shallow water, the centrepiece of which is a white hillock. Rippling through the water, the bodies slide, combine, grapple and intertwine. We’re not quite sure what we’re watching, but because we’re human, we’re asking: are they naked? Are those flesh-coloured knickers or is that his bottom? Is that her elbow or a knee? Is that breast or chest?
The water acts as a sucking anchor to this section of performance. Only rarely is it sloshed around which gives the splash an extra sense of release when it finally happens. Mostly, the action is tautly measured, tense with restraint. As the bodies straddle and hold, evolving into a series of increasingly complex forms, the audience is transfixed. This dance, if you can call it that, falls squarely into the realm of the super-weird but is as absorbing as it is strange. The only respite from the intensity is a memorable phrase involving the seven bodies, knocking comically against each other – like Newton’s Cradle, one of those shiny desktop doo-dads popular in the 1980s. It’s beautifully executed and provides a rare moment of hilarity.
Writhing in the water, the headless bodies create grotesque forms reminiscent of the Japanese art of Butoh. Butoh arose as a reaction to the dominance of Western culture in post WWII Japan and was renowned for tackling topics considered taboo in 1950s Japan. The characteristic white body paint and grotesque poses both feature prominently in Vessel so it was not surprising to see that one of the dancers – Nobuyoshi Asai – is considered a modern master of the artform. Butoh is considered by many to be a reaction to the atomic bombings of Japan, as well as Western dominance and the incorporation of these elements feels just as provocative here.
Rather than using the traditional white paint, sculptor Nawa created an adhesive for this performance that behaves as a solid when you touch it but then melts when you stop moving. (My kids make this at home and call it “cornstarch goo”) Dripped over dancers’ bodies, it creates a series of thick, milky waterfalls, cascading into a pool atop the hillock in the centre of the stage.
Accompanying all this is a spare, sinister soundtrack by Japanese composer Marihiko Hara featuring the famed Ryuichi Sakamoto. The music swells and recedes, tidal-like as we witness the creation of yet another form. Imagined insects; vulva-like folds; unfamiliar sea-creatures; evolution in flow.
Masterful and wonderfully weird. We filed out of the theatre, spent.
Perth Festival review: Perfume Genius and Mama Kin Spender: Perth Festival ·
Wednesday 28 February, 2018 Chevron Gardens ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·
It was the last eve of February; I probably should have brought a cardigan. On the main stage of the Chevron Gardens stood Mama Kin Spender and the WAAPA Gospel Choir (dazzling in golden robes), ready to deliver a rockin’ send off to summer.
Mama Kin Spender is the musical project of three long-time friends – Fremantle’s Mama Kin (Danielle Caruana) on lead vocals and percussion with Melbourne-based musos Tommy Spender on guitar and vocals and Virginia Bott as choir director and arranger. The on-stage chemistry between these three was delicious – so genuine, alive and heart-warming. You could easily imagine all the jokes, the unspoken truces, and the late-night shenanigans that fuel their collaborations. These friends simply get each other – whether it’s knowing first-hand the subject matter of a bluesy confessional dirge, or flashing cheeky grins at one another during a rock ‘n’ roll number about “wanting to climb someone like a tree”.
The WAAPA Gospel Choir added impressive depth to the show. The two musical groups formed such a remarkable symbiosis in the short time they were together (only two days of rehearsal and sixty minutes on stage!) that it felt almost magical. They had the crowd swaying with their infectious stripped-down alt-rock tunes and their luscious harmonies, evoking PJ Harvey and The Dirty Projectors. The choir had their time in the spotlight too, performing a glorious rendition of “Lily In The Valley”, which Mama Kin liked so much that it made her “clench [her] butt cheeks”.
If the opening act was the sun rising over Chevron Gardens – bright and joyous with arms outstretched to the world – then Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas plus band) was the fitting spectacular (WA-style) sunset. What better way to farewell a season of endless balmy night-time entertainment than with Hadreas’ signature stage persona? His voice is powerfully vulnerable and he has a hypnotic, seductive way of twisting and moving around on stage.
Hadreas and his band opened with ‘Otherside’, the first track off their latest album, No Shape. The delicate piano arpeggiation and quiet crooning lulled us into a false sense of calm, before our nervous systems were jolted to life by a thunderous explosion of drums, synth, and distorted guitar – accented by brightly flashing stage lights, against which Hadreas’ lithe silhouette could be seen. Majestic in a cropped brown Victorian-era military jacket and black harem pants, his demeanour fluctuated between coquettish and commanding, depending on the song.
The set-list spanned the intimate confessional numbers like ‘Die 4 You’ (recalling ’90s trip-hop band Portishead); the cool, sophisticated ones like ‘Run Me Through’ (which Hadreas says was inspired by Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis); the whimsical ditties like ‘Valley’; the seriously dark songs like ‘My Body’ and the explosively defiant anthems which have been embraced by fans in the queer community, like ‘Queen’ and ‘Slip Away’.
Perfume Genius tests audiences with unconventional song structures; sometimes a song will trail off into an extended section of ambience or noise, without a hook in sight; other times boundaries are pushed with irregular drum beats, harsh screaming vocals and moments where Hadreas retreats into himself, murmuring under his breath, slowly curling into a back bend while heavily-reverbed sounds wash around him. But these difficult moments are worth it, because the band rewards us on the other side with triumphant, glittering chords, sumptuous layers of rhythmic texture and Hadreas’ lovely tenor voice having undergone some sort of heroic transformation on stage.
After Perfume Genius’ epic set, which dealt with grief, shame, longing and oblivion – followed by songs about love, self-acceptance, solidarity and discovery – I finally felt ready to say goodbye to summer, to festivals, to excitement. I felt less saddened by the imminent cool weather, marking the beginning of city’s cultural hibernation until next summer. Because I was reminded that no one can stop the turning of the seasons, inside or out.
Mike Hadreas certainly knows this; it’s how he made his art.
Top: A hypnotic and seductive Mike Hadreas fronting Perfume Genius. Photo: Cam Campbell.