Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Northcote Social Club
Spread across the carpet like toadstools on a forest floor, the gently chattering crowd are clearly in a very positive frame of mind, comfortable in knowing what they're getting and being pretty laid back about when it arrives. It's an oddly bucolic feel - a gentle hustle around the merch desk, brisk trade at the bar, a mood capitalised on by openers The Spoils - tonight in two-piece mode. Spoils singer Sean Simmons seems to be another graduate from the Dave Graney school of tongue-in-cheek masculine showmanship with his cowboy whoops, baritone mic deep-throating vocals and exuberant strumming. The Spoils have well-written imaginatively played songs for a two piece though there really isn't anything new happening here song-wise. Between the songs however, is some of the funniest chat in aeons, like an old married couple Simmons and violinist/accordionist/singer/drone box player Bronwyn Henderson are warmly engaging and familiar. Closing song Goodnight Victoria is an endearing Pogues-ish sea shanty that leaves us primed for the voyage to Berlin.
In her third trip here two years Frankie has gone from playing to a dozen clued-in and lucky punters to her band's raucus Rob Roy debut to tonight's often harrowing tour de force. Bookending her show with the Welch-esque whispers of Be The Death Of Me and The Faint-Hearted Ones she takes us to places few other singer-songwriters would dare. With her guitar buckling under her levity of subject and impassioned delivery there is nothing fake or forced here. The longer she spends in Berlin the harder the edge to her songs get, so you can almost draw a line between the gentle folk-inspired meanderings of her JJJ hit The Tops via the '0-100 in 5 seconds' reinterpretation of Everything Everything to the writhing hellish glee of set-closer Serves You Right For Using Violence. Never at any point does she have to grab our attention, but her sudden shifts in dynamic wrench us in again and again. Maybe this is necessary in a crowded European metropolis, but on a weeknight at the No So, it strays into overkill at times; seduction of the crowd isn't on Frankie's agenda. What is however, is astonishingly accomplished songwriting, no more so than on the live favourite and crowd-rousing Happy which, along with new song I Been Dangerous indicate the well is far from dry. Tonight solidifies what the audience already know, Frankie is one of the most fearless performers and songwriters we have; so fearless she had to move to Berlin.