Elixir featuring Katie NoonanImage – Wilk

featuring Katie Noonan played the first concert of their national First Seed Ripening Album Launch Tour as part of the Brisbane Festival. What was promoted by the festival to be a “...stunning performance ... in a wondrous open air setting” was more like an endurance event for the incredible musicians as they played masterfully despite the ridiculously windy and icy cold outdoor conditions. Pushing aside thoughts about the chill factor and the suitability of the venue and reflecting solely upon the musical performance, Katie Noonan’s angelic vocals, combined with Stephen Magnusson’s divinely deft guitar and Zac Hurren’s fine fluid soprano saxophone along with vivid lyrics from the poetry of legendary Queensland wordsmith Thomas Shapcott (who was in the audience) created music of soft and soulful intimacy, rich with the imagery of the sacredness and joyfulness of life. The Tulipwood String Quartet accompanied the jazz trio; their performance was refined and overall added a superb depth and resonance to the concert.  

Elixir played nearly all of the songs from their First Seed Ripening album, with the exception of one song, Tip of Memory, for those who are familiar with Elixir’s previous recordings. Katie Noonan oozed a warmth and quiet charm for the whole evening and interacted with the audience displaying a natural grace and ease. She is one of the reasons Elixir’s music is so spellbinding and intoxicating, a delightful privilege to witness in live performance. 

The music journeyed through the stuff of life, from the miracle of a pregnant woman, the album’s title track First Seed Ripening, to the invigorating warmth celebrating sun filled beach days in Stuff of Myths. Magnusson’s guitar hummed and glowed with a revitalising energy while Noonan’s vocals dipped and dived delicately to take the audience to the moment on the beach. In other songs such as Snapshot it was beautiful to hear and watch the interplay between Noonan’s voice and Hurren’s soprano saxophone. His saxophone created the deep longing of a love affair and played as another voice responding to the lyrics, ‘you are the one I am a camera for’. Throughout the evening Hurren played with liquid ease in and out, up and around, weaving superb resonant lines and the moments when Noonan’s voice and Hurren’s saxophone joined on the same note were pure and glorious.                   

Other memorable songs were Elixir’s versions, or in Noonan’s words ‘tributes’ of the Radiohead song Last Flowers to the Hospital and Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man. An eerie, melancholy atmosphere with vast feelings of space between the notes was created for Last Flowers to the Hospital – this was achieved through the trio’s performance and Noonan’s voice in a lower register combined with just the right amount of vocal effects. While in stark contrast My Old Man contained earthy and more soulful tones, the song playfully employed syncopation and dissonance to create a very lively and entertaining version.      

What should have been a breathtaking evening (and Elixir was breathtaking) was a windswept, chilly affair. The biggest disappointment was the venue. A visually impressive open air purpose built amphitheatre that was unfortunately marred by the unpredictable weather conditions Brisbane is known for in early spring. Artistic Director of the Brisbane Festival Noel Staunton needs to reflect long and hard about asking the artists and the patrons of the festival to put up with such difficult conditions. I envy the audiences who will be able to delight and bask in the brilliance of an indoor Elixir performance for the rest of their national tour.              

Elixir’s unique and brilliant combination of talents harmonised and moved the inspired words of Thomas Shapcott to another level. Shapcott’s presence at the performance was truly appreciated by the audience. Despite lamentations about the weather it was a memorable evening. The audience and in particular the musician braved the weather conditions, I hope there are no cases of pneumonia reported as a result of the evening. Noonan’s instant rapport and connection with the audience meant you were always drawn into the exquisite music, the wondrous space and time that inhabit all the songs that were performed from Elixir’s luminous album First Seed Ripening.

Brisbane Festival 2011 presents
Elixir featuring Katie Noonan

Venue: QUT Festival Theatre
Dates: Fri 9 & Sat 10 Sep 2011
Tickets: $40 – $32
Bookings: http://www.brisbanepowerhouse.org

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