Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Northcote Social Club

Toni Collette follows her band onto the stage and into a hail of raptuous cheers from a sold out crowd. It's an unusual audience for the No So; few regulars, the only band t-shirts are her own at the merch counter, a very different atmosphere, and a median age of 30+. Wearing a shapeless green dress and golden slippers that are soon discarded, Collette straight away takes charge and maintains control throughout. Without a word or glance at the crowd, they launch into album-opener This Moment Is Golden. Once the tone is set she cracks a joke about the weather and her B.O which seems rehearsed but gets the right response and allows her the first of many smiles of the evening.

Collette's performance is fascinating. While obviously enjoying herself, and reveling in the repartee between her and Augie March front-man Glenn Richards, setting the scene and calling all the shots (no solos, no instrumental breaks) and injecting the odd humorous aside, she also seems physically nervous. Her arms never stop moving, she constantly touches her solar plexus, abdomen and breastbone, she asks for the bottle of wine she left in the band room several times, she seems in a hurry and her laugh seems a little forced. This demeanor is understandable, but following on from a more than comfortable and supremely talented J. Walker (of Machine Translations) support slot, - unjustly ignored by a crowd patently not here for the music alone - any incongruity is amplified. Plainly though, she has confidence in being a singer/songwriter. Her lyrics are posted on the band's stylish website, she gives herself totally to the song and - as all great performers do - looks a bit daft at times.
Tracks like Black and Blue and the album's title track Beautiful Awkward Pictures are the more successful given their dynamics and that they allow her subtle voice a chance to be properly heard and understood, since it is clearly the lyrics that she is presenting here. The song of hers that works most successfully tonight is Tender Hooks, a mandolin-led track that lets The Finish work on pushing the chugging rhythm and escaping the 100BPM tempo that seems to underpin most of her songs.

After playing the bulk of the album, waving goodbye, leaving the stage for a minute and returning, the band pulls off the feat of the evening. Introducing the next song as being "written by an Irish woman who's just had her fourth kid" they wonderfully execute a version of Sinead O'Connor's showstopping The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance, showcasing Collete's voice exceedingly well. She's such a great performer that if you give her a decent song your entire opinion of her as a singer changes, a fact that sadly serves to make her songs seem even less inspired and the arrangements more pedestrian.

It's hard not to be critical given the intention and capable but hardly inspiring talent on display, but ultimately this show is about Collette pushing herself, developing as an artist and fulfilling a long held ambition, it's noticeable that she chose to play three smaller Melbourne shows than one sold-out Hi-Fi Bar or Palace show. That she amassed such a good band then gave them so little to work with is by the by. The audience got what they came for, and she seemed happy with the show. She has obviously worked hard to put it together and earned it. Good luck at Homebake.

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