Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Melbourne Fringe Festival Review: TONY MARTIN: THE YETI

The Butterfly Club
While the story behind the warren-like temple of kitsch that is The Butterfly Club would be a show in itself, a glimpse into the fertile mind of comic legend Tony Martin brings a packed room of excitable and well-dressed 40-45 year olds out on this opening night. Even if you don’t fit into this niche, you would be hard-pressed to find a more relatable and better written show this Fringe. 

Presented as an episodic narrative of his life in an Auckland boarding house, The Yeti is an adaptation of highlights from his book Lolly Scramble, and Martin embodies the warmly-written characters brilliantly, with only a slight shift in physicality, relying on his peerless observational comedic writing and voicing to set us right amongst the cheap furniture and smoky fug of the house.

Seeing one of our (seemingly ageless) comic legends at work and maintaining his unmatchable form is not a chance to pass up.

Melbourne Fringe Festival Review: 10:45PM WORLD RECORD SHOW

The Tuxedo Cat 

Despite starting half an hour late, from the moment this chaotically hilarious show begins you know you’re in good hands. The three hosts Adam Knox, Dave Warneke and Andy Matthews are each gifted comedians with timing and improvisational skills that could lead to long careers. The ‘let’s see how many obscure (and previously non-existent) world records we can break’ premise is more a vehicle for some excellent banter. 

Full of unpredictable twists, messy accidents and occasional guest comedians, the hosts seem to be on a steep learning curve. Examining the detritus on stage at the show’s conclusion is testament to the lengths they’re willing to go to; whipped cream, ‘top shelf’ white wine, chocolate sauce, flecks of blood and a huge number of broken eggs. Impossible not to laugh at, this bizarre, charisma-driven show is a safe bet for anyone with a funny bone and a memory of Le Snaks.

Melbourne Fringe Festival Review: BEN POBJIE IS WEARING A TOWEL

Son of Loft, Lithuanian House

Many comedians rejoice at the chance to use the stage as a psychiatrist's couch, but it takes a rare combination of intelligence, wit, courage and commitment to actually make the prospect entertaining. While Pobjie is certainly smart and courageous enough to turn skin-pricklingly honest accounts of self-harm, depression, masturbation and an obsession with Breaking Bad into a galvanising performance, the emphasis on laughs is secondary to the honesty, but this isn't the comedy festival.

Whatever cheap and transient thrills the Fringe may offer up elsewhere, Pobjie has no time for insincerity or pretense. This is a compelling, cathartic, unique and at times challenging show but one that rewards in more ways than Pobjie possibly intended. Plus, any show that ends with a man wearing a towel 'for all the people who were told they couldn't do something but then did it anyway and failed and realised they should have listened in the first place’ is a man worth listening to.

Melbourne Fringe Festival Review: RED LIKE OUR ROOM USED TO FEEL

The Warren, North Melbourne Town Hall 

Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (where it was among the best reviewed of all productions) Ryan van Winkle's oddly beguiling show is a truly memorable and disarming discovery. Inviting you, one by one, in to a small curtained-off alcove, warmly decorated as a share house bedroom, van Winkle offers a cup of tea or port and invites you to curate a short collection of his poetry. 

A welcome seduction away from the hustle and clamour of the festival, RLORUTF seeks to make a personal connection more than any show here, and overwhelmingly succeeds thanks to van Winkle's unprepossessing nature (and, perhaps, the port). As a model for poetry it's exciting, as a short, 20-minute dip into an under-appreciated art form it's glorious, and as a way to feel as though something here has been made specifically for you, it's unmatched, finally, and fittingly, it's free. A subtle and dazzling highlight.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The Gasometer

Bleeding from a sound check into an experimental noise-fest, three-piece Exhaustion waste no time in confounding expectations about what constitutes a ‘song’. Moving from empty percussion thwacks to full throttle jet engine distortion, the band play hard and loud, bullying their songs with unexpected twists and turns. Almost better suited to a party at a dysfunctional share house than a gig, Exhaustion channel a Germs-like snotty dissatisfaction and rage, expressed via feedback squalls, busy tom-heavy drums, simple basslines and drowned vocal yells. Their short, acerbic set is a powerful blast that keeps their rising profile on course.

Similarly fuelled with bratty discord Bitch Prefect follow and the cut and thrust of rapidly strummed clean guitars fills the room. Dissonant vocals stab and drone as the songs rise and hang. The trio channel the Vaselines and Flying Nun while adding a galvanising neurotic buzz. Dense, dynamically even, their set mostly comprises of songs from 2012’s Big Time album though earlier single and set-closer Holiday in America stands out for it’s brilliant simplicity.

Playing the second date on their national tour, The Native Cats take to the stage to a now-packed room. Bassist Julian Teakle sets the starkly muscular mood, as vocalist, circuit-bent-Nintendo tweaker and melodica blower Peter Escott begins his doleful intelligent intimations. Wearing a long red dress, he cuts a fascinating figure as the duo move track by track through new album Dallas. Escott’s expressive voice and strident lyrics gain strength from their menacing, casual dispatching. Highlights I Remember Everyone, brilliant new single Cavalier and mournful C of O demonstrate their peerless songwriting and disorienting construction; ‘They tell you strangers come and go and if you want you can pretend / Now I’m running out of people I thought I’d never see again / I’m seeing them again” Escott sings archly.

Sometimes danceable, sometimes suited to headphones and a walk through dark streets, their music maintains a delicate balance between knowing irony and galling sincerity. Dallas and this gig make a strong case for the Native Cats being one of the most interesting and strikingly original bands in the country, though it’s highly unlikely they’d give a shit about any sort of assessment like that.

As their dazzling encore of Shovel on Shovel finishes (introduced as "a song about a recurring dream where I smoke a cigarette and regret it") and the noise from the rowdy crowd fades the duo share a glance and nod before leaving the stage. "Thank you Melbourne," Escott wryly confesses. "I'm slowly coming around to you".

Saturday, September 14, 2013


The Toff in Town
Dispelling Election Day blues within seconds of kicking off their set, Playwrite bounce their drama-laden brand of percussion-driven funk rock off the walls of the largely empty room. While claiming influences of Animal Collective and TV on the Radio, the epic grandeur of Elbow and the bongo/floor tom fury of Local Natives are more accurate likenesses, which, in these hands, is no bad thing. Clearly a massive asset to any festival lineup, Playwrite deal in music to feel and dance to rather than just hear. It’s strange to see the smallish room gradually fill and the audience respond with trademark warm politeness (the kind that keeps this country on its knees); when singer Jordan White pushes his impressively powerful voice, these songs deserve an arena of fans, arms around each other and fists aloft. 

To fractured projections of The Wizard of Oz, Tully on Tully take to the stage to wind up their national tour in aid of their new and stonkeringly good EP Weightless. Dancers push their way to the front of the now packed room, as the band launch into opener Hunt You Down. With two years of consistent gigging behind them and a solid, unchanged lineup, tonight’s gig feels like it’s a new high for the band. Always a note-perfect formidable pop machine, ToT tonight seems ready to take it to the next level. Singer Natalie Foster, always a mesmerising presence live, moves with a feline quality as she inhabits her words and entrances the audience. More a band than ever before, radio hit Naked and their sterling So Close to Over really highlight the role of the four-piece backing the ever-moving Foster, not just the musicianship but also the personalities of the band shine through in these songs now. 

It’s as if two years of gigging has finally made the band comfortable to play the parts and be themselves. While highlights Quiet Company and EP-opener Going on Like This noisy-up the crowd, it’s the Hayden Calnin-featuring Triple J hit Stay (absent tonight but ably covered by guitarist Greg Rietwyk and keyboardist Pete Corrigan) that sees the entire room burst into singing so emphatic that it nearly drowns out the band. Watching the Tully on Tully share disbelieving smiles as the crowd lift their voices is the high point of a blazing set and a powerful reminder of what music can do, and that no matter what happens elsewhere in the country, there are still few places in the world you’d rather be.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Northcote Social Club
Indebted to 90s British bands in the most forgiveable way possible, Adelaide’s Alpha Beta Fox are a perfect choice as support for tonight’s show. Pulling together the best parts of Lush, St Etienne and brighter moments of mid-80s Cure, the five-piece boast the dual vocal talents of Tanya Giobbi and Rebecca Burge Versteegh and of course, churning and chiming guitars. 

Far from being copyists however, ABF also use Theremin, inspired fizzing synth and a bird whistle to create a genuinely unusual sound. Opening song Lady Don't Ride instantly announces them as one of the boldest and brightest discoveries so far this year, and the crowd are audibly impressed from the outset. Songs veer from swoonworthy to writhing with their lovely J-play garnering buzz single Pins and Needles being far from their strongest effort tonight. The odd lazy lyric aside, this is a band to watch. 

To a now sold-out crowd – most dressed in flattering black and aged northward of 40 – the Underground Lovers wander on and proceed to do what they do best; make garage rock for hovercrafts. The Stereolab-like brilliance of I Was Right with its mantra ‘And the way it begins / Is the way that it ends / I was right’ gets us all onside. Singer Phillippa Nihill paces the stage as if she’s nervous but sings like she owns it. Glenn Bennie’s inspired yet un-flashy guitar work is a well-known national treasure, but hearing him at full bore and on form as he is tonight is a revelation. 

Songs as good as those on their recently-released Weekend album can only come from years of experience, and their balance of intelligent aggression and mellifluous texture is uniquely their own. There is no fading out here; the consistency and sheer talent is as vital as it was when they were ARIA Award winning Triple J fixtures. It’s these newer songs that get cheers of recognition and bond the crowd just as much as incendiary brilliance of Beautiful World and Leaves Me Blind. As warmly as we respond, the band seems even happier. ‘We don’t do banter,’ lies singer Vincent Giarrusso joyfully. Melbourne music mainstay Julian Wu jumps up on stage to spruik the single tonight’s gig is in aid of (a split single with Chinese band Dear Eloise if you’re interested – and judging by the movement at the merch desk, we are). Can For Now, In Silhouette and tonight’s launched single Haunted (Acedia) are stunning, and, as the clock ticks over into September, their excoriating encore of 1992’s Eastside Stories leaves us wholly sold that this enduring team have a lot more to give