Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Delgados and Detention

Just home from seeing Glaswegian band The Delgados, who were playing the last gig of their first Australian tour at Richmond's Corner Hotel tonight. Not a huge crowd, and one who seemed more curious than passionate, but the band were having fun - which may have had something to do with the fact that the tour managers had taken them all out to dinner before the gig and covered the bar tab! They all seemed happily lubricated...

I'm not exactly a fan, but I very much enjoyed their tunes - a nice midpoint between Belle and Sebastian-style wistful indie and the power-pop of fellow Scots Idlewild.

Now I'm at home having just finished my weekly music review column for the gay and lesbian newspaper MCV - which stands for Melbourne Community Voice. I do the 'Alternately' column, which focuses on 'alternative' music; as opposed to the other music writer who focuses on boy bands, ultra-pop and dance music.

Here's a taste of what I write:

"Picaresque – The Decemberists (Trifekta/Shock)

Opening with hooting and wailing before launching into a rollicking song about a young lady carried "in a palanquin on the back of an elephant, in a bed of linen and sequins and silk", the third album from Portland combo The Decemberists is another combination of literate wordplay and rollicking, shanty-style indie folk tunes. It’s a rich, intelligent and delightful album that features a swag of song styles, from the thoughtful and subdued to the bounce around the room sort, and it marks an audible development in the band’s musical abilities. Arrangements are more complex and the instrumentation is more diverse. If you’re already a fan you don’t need me to tell you that this CD rocks, but if you’ve never previously been exposed to The Decemberists then "do yourself a favour" (to quote Molly Meldrum) and get your hands on a copy today.

The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco – The Lucksmiths (Candle)

Launched at last weekend’s Candle Records’ 10th birthday extravaganza, the new Lucksmiths single has been lifted from an as-yet untitled album currently scheduled for an April release. It continues the band’s exploration of their more mature, reflective style as showcased on 2003’s studio album Naturaliste, which may disappoint fans who were hankering for a fresh dose of trademarked Lucksmiths punning quirky pop. To them I say: rest assured. ‘The Chapter In Your Life…’ is the musical equivalent of an expresso served with four spoons of sugar: it’s as strong as it is sweet.

Epro – Beck (Universal)

The latest single from the inventive Beck is all dirty bass and catchy chorus, the kind of song designed to sing along to on the dancefloor while grinding your crotch up against your date’s arse. With its funky rhythm and sexy guitar hooks ‘Epro’ proves that Beck is a master of style, even if he does seem to have found a groove he can settle into. It’s not the radical re-invention that his fans have come to expect, but nor is it banal or disposable."


On Friday night I went to see a new piece of physical theatre exploring Australia's shameful policy of mandatory detention of refugees. Here's what I thought:

"STAGE: Subclass 26A
By Richard Watts

Directed by Bagryana Popov and with dramaturgy by Anna Tregloan, Subclass 26A employs a combination of dance, live music and spoken word to explore the experience of detainees in mandatory detention. Sadly this stark production, mounted in the oppressively intimate space of Melbourne’s 45 Downstairs is so intellectual in its approach to the subject matter that it almost totally drains the drama from what should have been a riveting and moving production.

The frustrations of daily life inside a detention centre are ably manifested by an athletic group of six performers, who use repetitious movement and language to portray a group of detainees, their guards and caseworkers. At other times these roles are suddenly reversed, with aloof guards transformed in an instant to bewildered tourists being abused by angry immigration officials whose words cannot be understood, only their abusive tone. While these role-reversals enable the audience to identify with the English-speaking characters in these circumstances, as a dramatic device these sequences are heavy-handed in the extreme.

A more poignant impact is created by having characters reel off lists of names and dates of the arrival of boats carrying refugees, and quoting from forms used by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Aboriginal Affairs, and other official documents. This has the effect of tangibly weaving the web of bureaucratic doublespeak in which the characters are ensnared. When coupled with the striking live soundtrack by Elissa Goodrich, and Richard Vabre’s starkly effective lighting, these elements become all the more compelling.

The least effective element of this production is the sterile, overly stylised movements of its dancers and actors. The media release for Subclass 26A describes it as "dynamic and raw". It is anything but. The intensely intellectual approach to choreographing the story, the sometimes fragile, often minimalist movements at the heart of the piece, fail to engage at an emotional level. While it may be suitable entertainment for a small circle of uber-aesthetes, as an opportunity to stimulate public debate or sway those Australians who support the Howard government’s policy of mandatory detention of refugees, Subclass 26A fails utterly, and preaches only to the converted."

Subclass 26A runs until Feb 27 at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne.

In other words, I didn't like it. I have an audition as a panel member with ABC TV's new weekly arts program tomorrow afternoon, so I'm off to bed now. I'll let you know how it all goes in my next post, which will also hopefully be a lilttle less impersonal and slightly more engaging. Sorry about that - it's almost 2am and I have to be up at 7am to finish writing up an interview with the performer Paul Capsis before I head into the office at Express Media....

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