Friday, 25 November 2011

Straight to you: A tribute to Nick Cave

The musical tribute used to be farcical – think ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again.  But over the last couple of years musical tributes have experienced a renaissance, or, if you like, have been born again (geddit?!  Gee, I’m clever).

The reborn tribute takes its lead from the well loved Hollywood-how-to-make-a-blockbuster play book.   Take a talented musician who has had an illustrious career (they can be dead or alive) as your subject, litter your production with their most famous songs and then form an ensemble cast comprised of popular performers.

This formula is sure to deliver either an Oscar worthy biopic or, in this instance, a successful live tribute concert.  Just depends on how long you cook it for.  The live tribute concert has become a feature on the concert circuit in the past few years: there have been tribute concerts to the Beatles (for the White Album anniversary) and to the Finn Brothers of Crowded House fame with Triple J having also delivered tributes to the Go Betweens, AC/DC and Paul Kelly.

Triple J’s latest offering for their annual AusMusic Month is the Straight to You: A Tribute to Nick Cave concert.  It’s the first Triple J tribute concert to tour the country, visiting Geelong, Ballarat, Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane as well as Canberra.  It arrived in Canberra on Wednesday, 16 November, and was held at the National Theatre.

The concert didn’t sell out, but the National Theatre isn’t a small venue with a capacity of nearly two and half thousand.  At the same time I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the turnout.  

It’s the group’s fifth concert and we’re told that we’re in for the best show yet (I bet they say that to every city). 

The stage is bathed in red light, a gothic / industrial style backdrop, a familiar shapes lopes across the stage and takes a seat behind the drums.  A few bars of a familiar song, and it is Kram delivering a strong version of Red Right Hand.

It’s a strong beginning, and it’s well followed by Muscles and Bertie Blackman’s version of Do you Love Me?  There is phenomenal energy, Bertie’s powerful vocals cut through, challenging you – do you love me? Do you love me, like I love you? Jingle, Jangle.

There a number of exceptional moments like this throughout the night that had me sitting on the edge of the seat, the drums pounding in my head, like my heart in my chest.   Most of the artists effectively tapped into that jittering emotion that’s ever present in Cave’s work, ably oscillating between psychosis, obsession and anger to the beautiful, contemplative and heartfelt.  Others produced performances that were predictable, and others teetered of the edge of forgettable. 

Photos from the Melbourne Show, thanks to Triple J!

High points for me? There were definitely more in the second half, from a theatrical hip hop cover of Stagger Lee, to the use of Lisa Mitchell’s pure and innocent voice to perform a moving version of Into My Arms.

Low points? There were times when it got a little bit too Australia Idol, and others where the pace seemed relentless before coming to sudden and abrupt halt.

Observations? One of the real challenges of the tribute concert is that you can never be sure of how it will turn out.  Do the die hard fans of the subject want to come and watch other artists, who they may not appreciate, performing their songs? Do the fans of the performers want to come and watch their favourite act performing someone else’s songs? Hmm… I’m not too sure.

Want to hear the concert for yourself? One of the concerts is being played on Triple J’s live at the wireless this Sunday at 5:00pm.  Tune in and judge for yourself!

1 comment:

  1. The Melbourne show looked awesome. Canberra...well I was a bit nonplussed. I didn't have high expectations either! It was too Australian Idolish for me, and yeah, didn't flow well. Kram continues to be awesome though.