Moleta retrospective is poetry in motion

14 May 2023

Benedict Moleta leafs through an impressive back catalogue and offers a taste of the next chapter. Harvey Rae reflects on an exquisite evening.

Songs 2002-2022, Benedict Moleta
Shenton Park Community Centre, 13 May 2023

Three hours. No support act. Minimal audience interaction. Our host perpetually gazing off into space, or perhaps staring at the roof to avoid eye contact with familiar faces in the sold-out crowd. Programs and album covers printed on simple white paper; blank pages turned into an origami of sorts.

On last year’s comeback single Passage of Time, Benedict Moleta contemplates the Japanese art of folding paper: Unfold the swan, make it unfold and show me how it turned/ From that blank piece of paper into this white bird.

It’s a pertinent metaphor for Moleta’s signature indie rock, which incorporates elements of post-rock, baroque and folk, paired with observational lyrics wistfully aimed at the sky. When she took me back to flat square one/ The lines in the paper showed me/ Each subsequent step would be/ Not life’s unfolding mystery/ But a predetermined personal history.

Local band rooms aren’t usually renowned for showcasing eloquent lyrical prowess. As we glimpse into the friendships and coming-of-age stories marking Moleta’s own personal history, one of the starring players is the quaint stage and intimate surroundings of Shenton Park Community Centre. You can hear a hairpin drop.

It ensures the quietest and prettiest songs, Hairpin included, reveal the intricacy of their composition in real time. But above all it means Moleta’s voice is clear and articulate, his poetry not clouded by crowd noise or unnecessary distortion.

Moleta provides us with detailed A4 programs that not only reveal the setlist, but feature the lyrics to read along to. The retrospective is not necessarily a greatest hits, with nothing from the excellent Timesheet album (2010) or debut The Warm Sun Coming In (2005) appearing.

In place of upbeat favourites such as Minaret, Bicoastal and Small White Weatherboard Houses, are introspective, lyrical ballads, many of which exist in the quietest corners of Moleta’s prolific catalogue.

Songs such as And Not Riding on a Stolen Horse or Another Hound take on new meaning, observed in these environs. The former contemplates The last ride I took from your house with longing: Leaving your French-polished mansion behind/ And winding in a documentary style into town.

Jonathan Brain (left) is one of the stellar musicians to join Benedict Moleta on the night. Photo: Darren Clayton

The additional players are virtuosos in their own right. Jonathan Brain’s intricate guitar work, in particular, is a highlight, as is Julian Bolleter’s piano. For Dead Deal, a title track of sorts to The Magical World album (2013), Moleta puts his guitar aside, leaving just Bolleter’s keyboard to act as backing. One of Moleta’s best songs, it’s also among the night’s highlights.

Other standouts include openers Eugene and Sheldon, both taken from 2007’s The Lines of Parallel Trees (arguably Moleta’s best); Brain’s sustained arpeggio guitar on Aberrant; a solo Slavic; a fine Italian accent on Spectre of Time; and a piano-laden take on The Rushing Sound. Split into two sets plus intermission, the latter is part of a closing band set also featuring the multi-talented Rosemary Halsmith. This is the most jovial section as Moleta jokes and interacts with bandmates and the crowd, giving a happy ending to a thoughtfully intense evening.

Good news is there’s more to come, with three new songs debuted. “Not heard outside the home until now,” Moleta notes, and there’s reason to be excited about this comeback beyond one exquisite performance.

Thank You, Dan Baldwin features a dynamic crescendo highlighting Moleta’s expressive voice. He hasn’t lost his lyrical touch, either. On Picture of Hell, he describes a mind’s overreach as a cognitive overbite, while Expecting Anyone has as deft a burn as any Moleta has delivered previously: Just because you’re a player/ Doesn’t mean the world is your stage.

Tonight is a reminiscence on an underrated and frankly brilliant body of WA work that deserves to be viewed alongside the best our state has produced in the past two decades. But it’s also hard not to be excited by the prospect of a new album due soon, no doubt with a simple white cover.

When life gives you blank paper, make origami.

For more on Benedict Moleta’s work, see his website.

Pictured top: Benedict Moleta shares his back catalogue in a mesmerising performance. Photo: Darren Clayton

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Author —
Harvey Rae

Harvey is a familiar face in the Perth arts scene, having been a journalist, promoter, events manager, artistic planner, songwriter, radio host, marketer, publicist, label owner and more. Music may be his first love, but you'll regularly find him at anything comedy, theatre or food related. Harvey gravitates towards the swings but sometimes forgets he’s too big for a playground flying fox, too.

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