|Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke|
|Friday, 17 April 2009 20:06|
Photo - Francie Wong
It's, apparently, 103 years old. Yet it doesn't look any worse for wear than Phil Spector. To its immense credit, it's remained a bastion for interesting live music for more years than I not only care to remember, but reliably can. Having said that, every visit reminds one of its claustrophobic hellhole ambience: devoid of air; sweltering. The recommended level of discomfort for intrepid fans; lesser mortals, or those requiring oxygen to survive, as against fags and Tooheys, should approach with extreme caution.
We were there, principally, for Venice beach-based singer-songwriter Tom Freund, in Australia, not least, for the East Coast blues 'n' roots. But the night came with not one, but two, bonuses. Firstly, Sam Shinazzi and band. Honestly, where does all this talent hide? Why wasn't I told? Turns out Sam's had four releases to date (three, 'full-length'); all this since circa the turn of the century, making him, you'd have to say, quite prolific. Apparently, he's a multi-instrumentalist, too, 'though there was no evidence of that on the night, as he clung, solely (and soulfully, as it happens), to an acoustic guitar.
Of course, one of the reasons Sam might've escaped my attention is because, although he's been doing solo shows, 'round the traps, for about the same length of time he's been recording, it hasn't always been under the snazzy Shinazzi banner (Caitlin Park professes wanting to marry him on the strength of his name, alone), but as the C-Minus Project; a not-so-subtle allusion, I presume, to a less-than-brilliant academic record.
A curious sidelight, by the way, is that he spent a long time as a drummer. Yet, he seems to have overcome these setbacks, hardships, adversities and handicaps (couldn't resist a cheap, opportunistic sleight on the backbeaters). Though formally trained and mentored in respect of that instrument, he's a self-taught rhythm guitarist, having picked it up post-matriculation, whereupon he also started to dabble in the dark arts of writing and singing.
There's much more to tell, but the long and the short of it is, it's really paid-off, especially if a song like Please Don't Let Me Forget is anything to go by. And there's every indication it is. A touching, homespun love song, it showcases Shinazzi's Springsteenian charisma in two minutes thirty exact.
I'd like to tell you about the SS band, but I've no inside track on the players. Suffice to say, bass and drums were as tight as a Scottish insurance assessor, the mild-mannered lead guitarist knew a lick or two and the keyboardist from Venus, not Mars) enriched the sound without making her presence particularly felt.
In conclusion, I give you every encouragement to welcome yourself to Sam's world: I think you'll find his global concerns not far removed from your own.
Caitlin Park, even if she sounds like a gated community, is a young, electroacoustic, folk experimenter of great moment, value & originality. In a mode somewhere between George Martin and Grandmaster Flash, Park exploits samples cinematic, streetscapist and otherwise, to arrest attention, pique interest, engage & complement her pared-back, less-is-more ambient underlays and overlays. Even the most shrill & edgy of these threaten to work with complete cohesion, thanks, in very large measure, to her intimates, Benedict (synth, electronica, sampling and backing vocals) and Eirwen (another multi-instrumentalist, on recorder, melodica & backing vocals and, on other occasions, piano, to boot), dressed, for the occasion, in the kind of sullied ballerina clobber that once was the province of PJ. These adventures go a long way to further distinguishing an already distinguished body of work.
She opened her set with How's Your Wife, a tune that's garnered an astonishing 2,158 plays on her My Space, which sets with one of her trademark, mesmerising, gentle guitar-picking motifs and reverse sfx. A Hollywood-sounding sample poses the titular question, which is also answered, 'oh, she's fine'. Were I Bill Collins, or David Stratton, I'd doubtless pick-up the cultural reference. Aside from some deft mixing of sundry other fx and a repeated mantra, that's about all there is to it. It had a hypnotic, lullaby-like simplicity, vocal scratchiness & outright weirdness put me very much in mind of Bjork. Of course, when Eirwen stepped-up, with recorder, there was even a dull reminiscence of Tull. Strangely compelling. Later in the set, Park's very considerable singing voice put me particularly in mind of the haunting, breathy delivery characteristic of Jen Cloher.
I can also commend, for your listening pleasure and edification, songs entitled or which at least include lyrics like Gone Are Those Days; I've Been Crying, Crying For You (with its beautifully measured backing vocals); They Tell Me The House Is Empty; the urgent, pleading promise of We Will Be Warmer Than The Sun, with its yearning violin; the Floyd-like metronomic handclaps and white noise of MatchWristBird, with its sonorous three-part harmonies; a two-week old, embryonic song, delivered solo and the saddest, least ironic version of Cole Porter's Miss Otis Regrets you're ever likely to hear.
Park is an 21st-century Dylan, Lightfoot, or Kelly, delivering Futurama folk. Listen up!
Tom Freund came onstage unceremoniously, belying the weight of his musical presence. From the go-get, we were enthralled by his hip, hep, hard-swingin' upright acoustic bass and the perky percussion of cohort, Michael Jerome, a significant figure in his own right, typically associated with Richard Thompson and The Blind Boys of Alabama. With his 'boombox', snare (set, at an angle, oh-so-casually, on the floor), tambourine, brushes, sundry shakers and accoutrement and, above all, ten digits, he achieves a full kit sound, with a minimum of equipment.
The first piece set-up where Freund is coming from: no friend of the global, corporate, or mutinational. Not yet being expert on his corpus, I'm not sure what it was called, but made ready reference to shopping-malls and convenience stores in similarly, tastily disdainful fashion to Mitchell's seminal Big Yellow Taxi. 'I'm gonna lay down my weary tune', Freund pined, in a phrase encapsulating the frustration and exhaustion of all those who'd hoped the Aquarian age would be here by now. When will we get smart?!
The second number (which I've seen deviously discerned to be Comfortable In Your Arms, the all-but-opening cut of the latest album) had a similarly cool, brothel-creepin', alleycat feel, with bass way out front for a jazz-tinged country-blues, with the warmly welcome anachronism of some orchestral bowing. Announced as a song about Saturday night, 'I've already forgotten how nice it is to be comfortable in your arms', it seemed to sympathetically, but by no means self-pityingly describe the twin, turbocharged dangers of one too many beers and a slight surrender to temptation. This is life, documented in full colour, if not splendour. The overall feel and, as at other times, Freund's voice brought our own, much-favoured, Xavier Rudd to mind.
Copper Moon is the title-track of Tom's 2004 album, which has also found its way onto his latest, Collapsible Plans. The opening imagery, 'just a slice of copper moon, over the ocean, the ocean blue' roped me right in. There's a hint of U2, for mine, in the impending sense of cataclysmic crescendo, but it never surrenders its laid-back lilt and lamentation. Lovely! Little wonder Graham Parker has said, 'along with Lucinda Williams, Freund is the best singer-songwriter operating today'. Here's ample evidence.
Then came the Pettyesque Unwind, a folk-rockout, not a million miles from Skynyrd, with some bent chords redolent of Steve Miller & its promise, 'I won't let you down', fully-realised.
I hope no one minds the comparisons, which are meant to be flattering and not in any way meant to indict originality, which is clearly in evidence: as I said to my companion, afterward, Freund would seem to have plenty of influences, yet a sound all his own. That's quite a feat. His songs are, well, Freundly.
Staying with the liberties already taken, the next song, an easy, stirred-not-shaken blues, evoked Wainwright, the elder, not to mention Paul Simon, with what I took to be a deliberate nod in homage to Warren Zevon's insurpassable Werewolves of London. 'I'm not a ghost in this town, even though you can barely see me' might be inscrutable, but is also definitely intriguing and warranting further investigation.
It was getting better and better, if anything, as the night wore on, but not out.
Also from the aformentioned newbie, Collapsible Plans, came one wry, but pretty & oh-so-tender (Without Her I'd be Lost, I gather): if my ears didn't deceive, 'She's esoteric and dark, just the way I like 'em'. Sheer genius. Now, this is what I call emotional intelligence.
Having dealt a slew of songs on acoustic guitar, it was back to bass-ics, with a finger-snappin' number that fell, very comfortably and unselfconsciously somewhere between Connick and Stray Cats; Orleans-style jazz-blues and rockabilly (a rhythmic & stylistic influence that's quite pervasive). It confessed, 'I'm not the lonely type'.
Picking up a harmonica helped get a very funky, bluesy Motown groove across, for Buffalo Springfield's timeless classic, There's Something Happening Here, recently revived for Obama's ascension & a ripe opportunity to showcase & celebrate the colossal collaboration of Jerome, who took a generous, out-o'-the-box solo and gave commensurately. Bobby McFerrin's percussive sensibilities are lurking here somewhere, too, methinks.
Freund then took to his trusty uke, with Queen of The Desert, very Eagles (indeed Freund often sounds like Henley) & another of his affectionate, adoring odes to the fairer gender.
The Band sprang to mind with the eponymous Collapsible Plans, clearly inspired by the untimely death of Freund's hero, John Lennon, referring to 'the last day of the rest of my life; sugar don't get any sweeter'. Moving.
Then a song featuring a trumpet-lips solo few could get away with: only, say, Tom Waits and one or two others.
It was all over, bar the shouting, which brought the man (or men) back for a couple encores. At first, I thought we were in for a rendition of You Are My Sunshine, which would've been sweet; piquant. But it quickly segued into a powerful version of Revolution.
And the perfect end to a near-perfect evening, also from the latest: Why Wyoming, another tribute, to a person I surmise to have been friend, hero and peer, in Manny Rizoso(?), who appears to have met his maker in that remote state. I hanker to know the full story. Jackson Browne features in this unusual, detuned (to F#) and, yet again, deeply affecting & heart-rending contribution to the folk-rock canon.
Tom Freund is now my Freund, for life.
Venue: The Hopetoun Hotel | 416 Bourke St, Surry Hills
Date: 14 Apr 2009
Visit: www.myspace.com/hopetounhotel | www.tomfreund.com
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