Northcote Uniting Church, 22/02/2014
Half an hour after doors open, a line of fans threads their way blackly down High Street. Longhaired and mostly female, the line enters the church hall through clouds of burning frankincense, past autumnal branches and clusters of candles. Before a note is played it’s apparent a Wendy Rule concert is about far more than just music.
Launching her seventh album Black Snake, by playing it through, possibly, she tells us, for the only time, Rule has assembled an adoring crowd and stellar septet to back her. Arriving on stage in a long flowing dark silk dress, she begins with the titular song, her deep, expressive voice instantly arresting and the artful deployment of marimba, guitar, flute, percussion, cello and violin inspired.
Standing before a pentagram of candles she moves into Juniper, a slow celebration of new marriage. Vaguely reminiscent of British folk singers from the 1960s, her overt spirituality sets her apart. "This album comes from soul journeying. Deep journeying and crossing thresholds," she says by way of introducing Rewind, another intensely personal ode to a recent life event. After fifteen years documenting her personal and spiritual journeys in music, it’s unsurprising that the atmosphere in the hall is one of mutual love and respect, and if that sounds bit hippy, it is. This is a woman who introduces a song called Why Must Love Be Twined with Sorrow? with the laughing admission, "Of course, it's written by a Scorpio!"
Many of her songs are given a shot in the arm by the mercurial violin of Aaron Barden, including the solemn ode to Mother Earth A Will of Its Own. Rule is likely to be the only singer who introduces a song (Ereshkigal) with both a brief guide to Mesopotamian goddesses, and a dance ensemble that interpret the five elements; a performance more ceremony than gig. Ever the high priestess, Rule plays a role she is both beloved in, and born to.
After a 20-minute break we move to the album’s second half. A stirring song "about our role in the cosmos and how we are all connected," From Great Above to Great Below follows. Several about her favourite topic, the movement of time and the seasons, After The Storm, Winter and Home follow. Closing with another hymn for the Wiccan church of the earth, All Life Flows into the Great Mother, the (expected) encore sees a dance troupe assemble, all long dresses and flicking hair. Rule leads the band through Horses and Zero, an early song "about magic", with its Einstein-defying chorus of "all space is here / all time is now". Frankly, she's Wendy Rule and reductionist materialism be damned, she is a woman who knows exactly what she's doing.