Eastern Lounge October 2013Left – Michelle Martinez

Eastern Lounge Mosman is the second Eastern Lounge to take to the north shore with its eclectic presentation of contemporary music. It's been running a little while now, but this was the first time I'd made it to The Mosman Club, otherwise known as the Mosman Returned Services Club. If you think the prospect of a rissole (in Mosman, of all places) isn't conducive as to live music, think again. Perhaps as one might expect, this seems to be a well-heeled club, which allows for a discrete space on level one, purpose-built as a comfortable venue, with conducive lighting and a decent stage.

The lineup was a double-header: Jess Beck (& Things), who was recently nominated for Female Artist of the Year, at The Deadlys; Michelle Martinez (& The Gentlemen), who's charted all over the world. Beck's paid dues on the festival circuit (Woodford; Saltwater Freshwater) and the girl from the bush (originally hailing from the red gum country of Mingbool, near Mount Gambier) is now taking it to the streets. From singing into a microphone her grandfather bought her, then off the back of a big, wooden hay-carting trailer out into a paddock, she trained for an acting career before rediscovering her first love. With a little bit of Tommy Spender from The Custom Kings, she wrote Hometown Dress, which became the title track of her now current, debut EP.

On the night, unfortunately, there was no time for a soundcheck for the band, so Things were, sonically, all over the shop for much of the set. There were one or two issues of timing, as well, which belied the 'tight-knit' reputation of the outfit. Happily, the sound improved marginally and the tightness soon kicked in. JB and Things began with Rose-Coloured Glasses, a song as emblematic as any in their repertoire of their confounding tendency to defy genre. Jazz-inflected, alternative folk-pop, segueing to reggae; there might even be some dance music influences 'in the mix'. It's a highly distinctive, fresh sound. I'm particularly taken with the bass clef piano part and the solo on same, by Daren Sirbough. James McKendry's acoustic guitar chords have something of a Latin lilt; Curtis Argent's double bass plods along reassuringly, lending some weight to the sound; meanwhile, Jeffrey Argent's quite busy on snare, high-hat and cymbals. The song was co-written by Curtis and Jess and is very fine. Actually, it puts me more than a little in mind, stylistically, of the sophisticated, soulful, Nigerian-gypsy-German chanteuse, Ayo; no bad thing. 'Close your eyes, imagine I am kissing you; it might be the last time I'll ever ask you to' is about the loveliest, most poetic possible way of expressing that familiar background noise of relationship insecurity I've ever heard. And we all want to be seen and remembered through rose-coloured glasses. This one tune is enough to hook you. But wait, there's more.

McKendry penned Dream On while on an overseas jaunt, away from his girlfriend for three, longing months. 'Dream on, dream away, that I'll forget you in a day.' There's a spacious, hint of Hawaiian guitar intro, swells of organ (so to speak), crunchy snare, another muscular bassline, a punchy toms and strummed acoustic interlude and a pervasive, palpable sense of airports, flying and distance. Sweet as.

My Touch is a newborn, being just weeks old. It kicks off with a distinct, piquant African flavour, but I spent much of it thinking how cute identical twins Curtis and Jeff look in their pork-pie hats. Put It On Paper comes with an engaging backstory about a need to get back to Rome by any means possible; again, it draws on a reggae feel, with vocals floating over the top. There was a stirring ballad and a jazzy shuffle before Running Around, also from the EP. It recapitulates the sense of spaciousness mentioned earlier, which seems to be one of the hallmarks of the band's sound. Garden Path took things back up-tempo. I can well imagine this syncopated, pseudo-reggae tune on high rotation on Triple J. Staying with commercial potential (and I don't mean those as dirty words, in this case), in my notes regarding the last two songs I wrote 'hit pick'. And I'm talking well beyond these shores, potentially. One was another newbie, entitled Old Days, which was deviously 80s (hinting at The Cure, for example) and had an evil bassline. The other with a lyric that's bound to touch raw nerves and open, or never quite healed, wounds. 'Your heart is so far away; don't you lead me down the garden path, 'cause I've been there before.'

I'm keen to see JB & T in a more intimate room, with a more acoustic emphasis and better sound, for her voice, not the world's most powerful, was swamped by wave after wave of murky noise. That she and the band still came across as finessed purveyors of sophisticated songs (in the writing and arranging) of no fixed genre, but with overarching pop potential and with a sound (much as it draws on many other influences) that emerges as all their own is a triumph. But don't go looking too hard for Jess Beck & Things (there's also been a Jess Beck Trio & Quartet): in recognition of their collective talents and in deference to equality, they're about to change their name to Pirra.

Michelle Martinez is a natural. She exudes talent, personality, intelligence and confidence. Her reputation already precedes her, having been a protege of Seal, on The Voice. And she's been all over the small screen. As well, she's appeared with Robbie Williams, (wait for it) Smokey Robinson, Silverchair, John Butler, Cut Copy, Jessica Mauboy, Wendy Matthews, Paul Mac, Richard Clapton, et al. Her debut EP, You Got Me, hit number one on the iTunes R 'n' B/Soul charts. Not a bad start in life. Better yet, she's not only a stupendous singer, but a very good songwriter.

During a piano intro, she emerges in a slinky red dress, to present an original, Where Did The Romance Go?. It sports an old school piano solo and falls somewhere between Blossom Dearie and Bjork, if you imagine that. 'You gotta lay low, when you're on parole.' There's a story there.

Baby Love isn't the old Supremes hit, but the second cut from the EP, a big ballad, with a characteristically sultry vocal. This is soul alright, baby. The real deal, with the real feel. With its languid tempo and deep-down bassline, it gets you, right down there. Martinez has two characterful backing singers at the ready, too, which fattens the sound to the point you could almost be sitting in the 16th Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Alabama. Organ enhances the impression. Martinez soars, like the songbird she is, above it all. I can barely describe to you how moving and exciting the sound (by this stage, thanks to a soundcheck prepared earlier, transformed into near excellence). Sensational isn't a word I use often, or lightly, but it's apt and accurate.

Ironically-named Australian house music duo, Madison Avenue, had a mega hit with Don't Call Me Baby and MM does a cover that probably trumps the original. It also features a bang-up box solo. Stay isn't on the EP either, but was co-written with Canadian quiet man, Jason Silver, in London. Suffice to say, it's a wonderful arrangement and a surpassing song.

Dangerous One sounded a little bit Nancy & Lee, what with it's countrified opening, but it soon slides into something more in Amy Winehouse meets Gloria Estefan; save for the honky-tonk piano. It's original, too, as is Hearts Were Broken, a voice-and-piano ballad and Dirty Love (not on the EP), with its bluesy, jazz-rock guitar intro and falsetto backing vocal. This one also has the wow factor.

The Martinez stagecraft even affords a costume change, into a short, black dress. Dedication To My Ex was the only other cover (hailing from one of her performances on The Voice) and was choreographed (with her backing singers), in the way of classic Motown. This is a rockin', funky-as rendition of Lloyd's chartbuster of a couple of years ago. Again, if I had to choose, I'd opt for Martinez'. It's definitely a sassier orchestration, putting me much in mind of Isaac Hayes' production sound. She's a good rapper, too; after the style of Janet, perhaps.    

House Music has a Latin flavour from the get-go. It's MM's love song to the radio. What's My Name?, from the EP, has a bluesy piano intro and proceeds in that temper, with wailing guitar, organ and muscular backing vocals. There's plenty of room for Martinez to show-off her raunchy, playful side, a la Eartha, not to mention her formidable vocal power and control. (On the really big notes, it was as if Whitney had come back to haunt and enchant us all over again.) It's a tingling showstopper and I almost had to pinch and remind myself I was in a rissole. In Mosman. It might've been Carnegie Hall.

And what better number for an encore than the title track of the EP, You Got Me? Nancy Sinatra meets Winehouse, with some big, slappy snare, kickass kickdrum and twangy guitar. Catchy and danceable as all get-up.

Beck surprises and compels with her thoughtful, carefully constructed, subtle, unclassifiable songs, while Martinez thrills with her scintillating performance skills. She's a ready-rolled diva. Just add music. As provided by The Gentlemen, ideally, for who Martinez provides novel introductions. Adrian Petlevanny, on guitar, is dubbed 'the architect of all things hardcore'. Speaking of architecture, bassist Duncan Brown apparently has a degree in quiche architecture, so he must be a real man. In fact a superhero, as MM claims he can babysit seven, construct a quiche & play Giant Steps simultaneously. It's obvious backing vocalist Cheyenne Kavanagh is never backward in coming forward, but who knew he had his own trailer and demands three bottles of Veuve and a pony; and that's just to turn up for soundcheck. As for Chris Luder, his stablemate, watch out ladies: don't lock eyes, or you may become pregnant. Pianist and musical director Michael Pensini is, according to the sharp-witted Martinez, so precise, he may be German-engineered: he hasn't made a mistake, since 1983. Drummer Aiden Haworth, as I recall, somehow escaped her affectionate barbs. This time, anyway.   

Eastern Lounges, 1 & 2, Roseville and Mosman, continue to offer performers, musicians, singers and songwriters, old, new and everywhere in-between, scope and opportunities to strut their stuff. And audiences a chance to cultivate their tastes, while having the time of their lives. With these events, promoter and producer Dave Keogh has raised Sydney north shore from the dead.   

Eastern Lounge October 2013

Venue: Eastern Lounge | The Mosman Club, 719 Military Road, Mosman NSW
Date:18 October, 2013
Bookings: www.trybooking.com


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