Still Summer

It’s Sunday afternoon and it’s another glorious day in Sydney. In fact it’s been glorious all week. Winter is really holding out this year. It’s the first of May and I’m sitting here in just shorts. And this time last year, I can remember being in Melbourne and almost being frozen to death.

It was even nice for Anzac Day this week and, as usual, I worked. But after work I caught up for lunch with my friend John who has spent some time travelling in Thailand and Laos which he said were both terrific. We had lunch in the Spanish quarter which was greatand then wandered through the city ending up in Hyde Park which was a really nice way to spend the public holiday.

I’ve been reasonably social this week having attended a few concerts, have gone out for drinks and have attended the opening of a new gallery and a new exhibition.

On Tuesday night, for example, Michaela, Mel and I went to the “Media Launch” of Il Divo, an “opera boy band” put together by Simon Cowell from American Idol fame. They sang just five songs but the show seemed to last for hours. Most interesting was an Italian version of Toni Braxton’s “Unchain My Heart” and most controversial was a version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. They look good and they sing well. However, they can’t move – it was like watching a black and white fashion ad – and there wasn’t all that much passion in their performance. That’s why I thought they were a little boring.

And then on Friday night, Colin, Grant and I went to see Tim Draxl perform live. I’d first heard of Tim Draxl about four or five years ago when, under the tutelage of Les Solomon, he was proclaimed as “the next big thing” following in the footsteps of David Campbell. I actually interviewed him at the time. We spoke in particular about his interesting upbringing as one of four songs of Austrian-Australian ski instructors and of his career ambitions in music, but more significantly in acting. I got the impression at the time acting was more of an interest for him than was cabaret. I’ve since seen him in a couple of movies, including “Swimming Upstream” and “The Shark Net” (which were both good), but also in the telemovie about the television series, which was maybe not so good.

As to why he has returned to music, I don’t know, and he didn’t really say in the show either other than what I thought was a fairly trite line about singing his favourite songs and playing in a venue that the likes of Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra had played. Actually, quite a bit of the show featured strong versions of standards, including “A Foggy Day In London Town” and “Night & Day”. But as a performer I thought he really came to life with more contemporary numbers, including a song by Billy Joel, and in the more obscure musical theatre numbers he chose. I think it was really then that he became authentic as a performer. He sings like an angel and with such control, but to be honest, I thought his ability to bring new life to standards was limited. A bit like Harry Connick Junior and Michael Buble doing the classics… nice… but nothing new.

Likewise, I thought the patter in between tracks was often contrived and a little disingenous. When he spoke it was very clearly tightly scripted and lacked that authenticity I mentioned earlier. However when he sang a three item tribute to a broken relationship he really came to life as a person. One song, “I’m Alright Now” in particular, made me pretty weepy as it allowed me to reflect on my own relationship breakup.

Combat Wombat at Hopetoun Hotel

And then in stark contrast, last night I went to see Combat Wombat, a reggae-flavoured hip hop band from Melbourne featuring DJ Wasabi aka Tom Jones. No, it’s not the boring aged Welsh singer, it’s Tom Jones, formerly of Matong, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle and now Melbourne, son of my friend Kate. Their music is both political and danceable in that “Jabiluka” kind of way. By this I mean the kind of sounds that I first came across at the Jabiluka protests of the late 90s in the Northern Territory. Most of those attending had a strong commitment to envirionmentalism and social justice, but unlike their parents whose artistic representation of that was folk music, these kids had grown up with dance beats and technology.

Combat Wombat at Hopetoun Hotel

Amongst the group of us who attended last night’s concert – the group of old people – was a member of a legendary Australian rock band. Peter said he’d been chatting with another “old muso”, a very well known bass player who just couldn’t believe that Combat Wombat’s range of instruments included only samplers and turntables. “I can’t believe they plug in all those leads” was the incredulous comment his friend made.

But drawing upon earlier traditions – Midnight Oil, David Bridie – their show also included background video footage focussing on issues of peace, environmentalism and national identity with The “Irish dancing John Howards” being a highlight.

The music was also terrific. I thought Tom – aka Wasabi – was just amazing. I also thought one of the vocalists – the female one whose name I don’t know – sang with such a huge amount of passion and authenticity.

In between time, I also had the opportunity to visit the opening of the new Damien Minton Gallery and the Salon des Refuses exhibition at National Trust-SH Ervin Gallery, which featured “rejects” from the Archibald Prize.

Work continues to go well although I’m desperately needing a holiday. It’s been an amazingly busy 12 months with work and I haven’t really had a holiday for eighteen months to two years. I’m working towards a good holiday in the next month or so…

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