A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
I rolled into the Northcote Social Club wearing my costume under street clothes, feeling a bit like a timid superhero (one of my friends suggested Quailman, and I think that works pretty well). The bathroom was small, but provided at least enough space for me to take off my shirt and untuck the Dirty Dancing-style pink dress from my shorts. I adjusted my hair into a side pony-tail while Michael applied his eyeliner. We had a friendly conversation about getting signatures and the shows. Most impressively, he remembered me from the show last week.
Down in the second row, again behind a very short girl, just right of center, I got some looks, some compliments, and thanks to the words Karina sharpied on my chest, some free hugs. After too much dancing to 80s pop music, the show finally commenced.
Brendan Maclean, another guy I had met in the bathroom and apparently a friend of Karina, did a two song set – a cover on keys and an original on ukulele. Both were soulful and touching. His style is a sort of soul-blues in the voice, and it is reminiscent of a few singers I’d recognize but can’t call to memory. The guy’s got skill for sure, and his voice has just a slight warble and detours just slightly from the expected cadence in a way that somehow makes it seem a bit more pained and authentic, though I’m aware of how loaded the latter term is.
Up next was Mikelangelo, a man I’ve been fortunate to see a couple times already, eschewing all backing and working the acoustic guitar – “a forgotten relic” in the modern age of ukuleles – alone. The man is in some ways the embodiment of sexy cool. Pin stripe suit, coifed hair pompadour style, confidence, solid build, a deep voice that is sultry and smooth and like an Australian-accented Sean Connery. It seems that he was born about 50 years too late, and yet somehow at exactly the right time. He was having a down night, as he called out and evidenced by his choice in songs, but even mellow he is still social and entertaining. He played with the crowd, impressed at our abilities to pick up the crowd part after just one run through*, winking at us, bantering at the sound guy. He even busted out some The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-style echoing whistles for texture. The guy just emanates confidence without cockiness.
Before the main act, we were treated to one more diversion. Jess Daly and Agent Cleave. Tall lean dark scruffy guy and average height, curvy, dark gal, walking out in time with a song, wearing geisha robes and hiding behind paper fans. They had huge black teased up hair and golden headdresses. Black eyeliner in spades and fake eyelashes of bright colors sticking out inches from their faces. The overall look was somewhere between exotic Oriental and ancient Egyptian nobility. They proceeded to slowly disrobe, revealing bodies wrapped in rope, which they then tied together before painting each other with Japanese calligraphy paintbrushes, over and over, three letters. A F P.
Despite the quality of the three preceding acts, the crowd was ready for the one we had all come to see. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra took the stage in similar getup to last week’s, with some small exceptions. Michael’s makeup, and certainly his new neckpiece, were much more evocative of ancient Egypt, as was Amanda’s new headdress. Jkerek donned a new overcoat (well, more of a robe) that looked remarkably like those the previous act had worn. Chad now had a decorative codpiece (again, somehow Egyptian styling) to add a little mystery to his tights, though the rest of his look was still full on Adam Ant.
The band ripped right into things, starting off the set with a new song. They went into “Oasis” and from there started into a good mix of old and new music.
They were on point. Having a week off to somewhat rest Amanda’s voice seemed to have helped, and she now seemed more in control of it. She wasn’t belting out with the same ferocity as on the first night, but that didn’t seem to detract from the performance or the strength of what she was putting out there.
The band continued to provide something for everyone, and there were no detractions from the show. Michael continued his strong and energetic nailing of the drums. Chad continued his controlled convulsions. Jharek continued his swaying and fully immersing himself in the bass. Amanda continued to be Amanda. Each member of the band put in energy, each one put in musical competence backed with passion. Each one was entertaining enough to watch in their own right, and having the full package made for a complete stage show.
This was also a night where the emotions and the freshness of what they were doing still clearly enticed all of them. Unsure of where she had planned to include tambourine on a song, Amanda asked the band if they remembered. Unsure of where the exact cues were, Amanda looked to Michael, Jharek looked to Amanda, Chad looked to Jharek, and Michael looked back to all of them for confirmation. They didn’t miss their cues, but they don’t have them down to an exact science. It was refreshing. Even within the passionate playing of the songs there is still that human element of a group of friends who have come together to make things happen and don’t yet know precisely what the others are going to do. They know what they will hit, but they still look to make sure they do it together.
I don’t know if it was just that I was much closer and could see better, or if Amanda was truly more into the performance, but her facial expressions were a window to her soul. And on some of these songs, her soul was clearly not in the sunshine. On “Killing,” as it built to the angry, cathartic, self-sacrificing climax of the song, you could watch her heart breaking through her eyes. Dark green makeup around bright green eyes that cried out, far beyond the music, that she was clueless of what to do and was ready to push herself off the ledge just to get a reaction. The song kicked me in the gut with her looks alone.
The band played around on Radiohead’s “Idioteque,” with Jharek and Chad turning their strings into sounds that I didn’t know guitars could make. They unveiled a new song about one of Amanda’s past occupations. On one song Chad played with the pedals and knobs with the intensity of a true artist intent on the avant garde that still worked as a coherent part of a whole accessible song. On “Missed Me,” the band switched instruments in a melee between verses. The pauses were long as they readied to hit the next verse together, but with each wall of sound kick back in, the energy picked right back up where it left off.
The band was solid through to the end of the setlist. The encore, “Runs in the Family,” was the best version I’ve heard of it to date. The song sounds more complete in having the guitars added in. And tonight specifically the bass was mixed louder than before, giving it a really determined drive underlying the whole piece. It isn’t often that I notice the bass being critical to a song, so having done so I made sure to complement Jherek on it after the show.
The only flub I noticed in the show was Michael dropping the last beat of the grand finale of “Runs In the Family.” It wasn’t a huge error, but it did cause a slightly less than epic end to the set. So, to make up for it, Amanda kicked the band off and added “The Ukulele Anthem” to a loud crowd sing-along response.
The crowd energy was high. Remarkably high. Even for an Amanda Palmer gig. It was palpable. The crowd screaming and singing along to the songs. The applause. I’m not sure I’ve actually heard a louder scream for an encore. So much so that even Mikelangelo was a bit put back and impressed. The band was playing all night in top form. And the crowd was responding. It was a positive feedback loop. They did the best performance so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be the highlight of the five shows. And the crowd appreciated that, reveled in it, and gave it right back. I think the band knew it too. I think Amanda especially. Though I can’t be certain, it appeared that as Amanda left the stage at the end she was holding back tears of joy.
* Between Mikelangelo and the Lostprophets, I’m officially designating Melbourne as a musically gifted city.