This may be one of Melbourne’s best-kept secrets. In its third year, the Australasian World Music Expo, or AWME, is showcasing some of the Australia-Pacific region’s best Indigenous, roots and world music artists.
As part of the Expo, there are several showcase concerts. On this Friday evening, the Arts Centre put on the Australian artist showcase at the Playhouse. As its title suggests, Katie Noonan and the Captains were its headline act, but it was a show that also displayed the technical and varied talents of two other bands and artists: Microwave Jenny and Mama Kin. The result was a night of great diversity and an introduction to Australian artists who are sure to touch audiences with their music in some delightfully unexpected ways.
Although less well known in popular circles than Noonan, Microwave Jenny and Mama Kin have also performed to big crowds at events like the Woodford Folk Festival. Microwave Jenny (Tessa Nuku and Brendon Boney) are perhaps the new kids on the block, a folk/jazz duo who recently won the Peter Garrett Breakthrough grant, which funded the recording of their debut album.
Nuku, on lead vocal, has an angelic voice and a rather lovely tentative disposition. She is accompanied by Boney on vocals and guitar and between the two come some wonderful harmonies and lyrics.
Whilst the duo put their own spin on some popular songs, making many of them more interesting than their originals, their songs Lyin and Locked in the Closet are especially catchy. Homemade Lemonade has particularly sweet lyrics, capturing childlike innocence and young love.
Following them is Mama Kin, or Danielle Caruana, a woman who knows her way around a stage, and how to work her audience.
Caruana is married to John Butler, but is making her own mark in the music scene, having released her debut album Beat and Hollar earlier this year. Supported by her brother Michael on keyboard and George Servanis on drums, she has great physicality and allows her feel of the music to move through her body, through the stage, and out into the audience.
Her voice is big, often deep, and a mixture of Latin, funk and soul. The title track from her album, Beat and Hollar, in which she engages the audience participation, is accompanied by hand percussion and a persistent, catchy beat. Her slow and soulful track Tore My Heart Out, though entirely different, is another song that sticks with you.
By the time Katie Noonan and the Captains come on, the show has been going for a good couple of hours, yet they command attention. Noonan’s knowledge of her craft and the capabilities of her instruments, including her own voice, are instantly recognisable.
Together with Cameron Deyell on guitar, Stu Hunter on keyboard and bass, and Declan Kelly on drums, she performs songs from their new album Emperor’s Box. The album is quite a departure from the work that Noonan is perhaps best known for, with more artificial sounds, at times even a touch of rock. Noonan’s voice, rather than always being at the forefront, becomes one of the many collections of sounds, and yet it is as poignant as ever.
Quite a few of the tracks, all written by Noonan and some in collaboration with other well known artists, are gifts for those special to her. The track Emperor’s Box, written in response to her father’s illness is perhaps the most touching, and interestingly the track that most resembles her older work. But it is in songs like Radar that she displays what she does best. Her voice seems effortlessly to disappear somewhere into the stratosphere and then find its way back, always taking her audience with her.
It is true that these artists would perhaps be more at home at an outdoor venue, and that the early starting time for the show means that by the final song, dinner is definitely the next stop for its audience, but such a concert gives these artists an opportunity to reach audiences that they normally may not. Certainly it makes one want to see their next shows, hopefully next time with a few drinks and nibbles in hand.
Katie Noonan and the Captains
Venue: Playhouse, The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Date: 19 November, 2010
Tickets: $22 + BF
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | www.theartscentre.com.au