Some thoughts on Neko Case and Joanna Newsom’s performances in Melbourne, January 2010

So I crawled out of the little cocoon of my routine in the last week to see some live music of the international kind. Two artists whose talent and musicality are among the best in the contemporary music scene (lucky me :)).
Firstly the red-haired chanteuse Ms Neko Case, who is always mesmerizing in her aural intensity – making death sound sexy (which of course it is). Apart from the fact that I was in an awkward position (behind the mixer at the HiFi Bar – where the main front of house is complemented by secondary speakers and the bass gets lost – or did the mixer only nail the bass half way through the set?) the performance was engaging and energising. I must also raise my hat to Jen Cloher, whose support set, ending with that superlative Grant Lee Buffalo track Fuzzy, was freakin A.
The second scene I visited was the Forum Theatre – what a gorgeous space – to see Joanna Newsom. I respect this uber-talented waif for her musicianship and her vision – opening new ground in the world of popular song with, of all things, a freakin concert harp (an instrument I always thought of as the naffest in the whole orchestra – Joanna, you have opened my eyes) and showing the breadth and depth of not only what a song can be, but what highly crafted arrangement can bring to popular music.
I was expecting to hear a lot more of her previously recorded material, though, and as lovely and trail blazing as her new material is, it was difficult to fully appreciate a set of mostly new material. Call me treacherous, or merely fussy, but I left the gig feeling it was a tad self indulgent of an artist who we payed $50 a pop to see, try out her new songs on us.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the performance was marred not so much by my lack of knowledge of the material, but by my body’s unwillingness to merely stand and watch such delicate music being performed. Those who arrived at the venue early and scored a seat were probably closer to heaven than I was. And this brings me to the point of my post – while I am happy to pay $50 and stand up for a rock performance, I don’t think I’m that chuffed about standing stone still (the bouncers were asking people to stand if they chose to sit down) for art music – however lovely and finely performed. While the ambiance of the Forum was a fit setting for Joanna to play in, the promoter let us down in choosing a rock venue for what was essentially a cross-over classical performance.
Which brings me to my next bitch. What is the story with a no-water-may-be taken-into-the-venue policy? We were searched upon entering and told to either drink or empty our water outside. I know this shit has been going on for a while in night-clubs, and you can’t bring your own piss into a sporting venue, but no full drink bottles of water – please!?! I just filled the damn thing up again in the toilets (and the chlorine probably did me some good – I drink only filtered water at home). However, this greedy stupidity back fired on the venue when Joanna stopped her performance (mulchos kudos to you Ms Newsom) because someone fainted in the front row. I don’t know the full facts, but they probably had to empty their water bottle in the street as well.
In fact the security at this gig were – while yeah, yeah, just doing their job – a little heavy handed for a harp-led performance that probably was unable to break any noise restriction policy, let alone start a freakin riot. I saw some poor guy, dreadlocked and thin as a rake, being asked to leave because he was too intoxicated. And while the bouncers were polite, the gestapo-air was a major downer on the evening. Is this another symptom of the bullshit licensing laws that killed the Tote?
Anyway, enough acrid verbiage. Had this performance happened in a concert hall, rather than a, all be it quite beautiful, renovated cinema, now rock venue I think I’d be gushing now rather than chaffing a bit and writing my first bitchy post on what I still intend to be a predominantly positive blog.