Mr K's Cabaret is new to Sydney's (upper) north shore; a brand extension, if you will, of Dave Keogh's highly successful Eastern Lounge, which now has a second home at The Mosman Club, as well as the 'mothership', at The Roseville Club. It's become quite a busy schedule.
Mr K embraces cabaret in its broadest, truest sense, presenting a melange of comedy, song & dance. The last exciting episode (the first time I've had the pleasure) featured irrepressible singer-songwriter and incurable satirist Rachel Collis as MC; supremo funk stars Gang of Brothers; burlesque temptresses Porcelain Alice, Casey Lynn and Athena Wood; hip-hop crew Dancekool.
Collis took to the stage, reworking classic vaudevillian shtick by producing faux notes as long as your arm from her bra. She doesn't need any. She's fast on her feet. And you just know you're going to be teased & tickled when she begins by playing harpsichord. Sure enough, we got a new song, called That Sneaky Bastard, which points to the fickle finger of fate and its darkly comical twists.
Before long, though, the mood changed dramatically, when Gang of Brothers took to the stage, kicking off with Marvin Gaye's immortal What's Goin' On. Rather than try and ape Marvin, which noone in their right mind, by and large, would or could do, the band, with Buddy 'the Buddha' Siolo in the centre, launched into its own version, chilled with some loungey electric piano from brother Fenix Martinez; funkified by a trademark ripper riff from devastating bassist bro', Dauno. Lockstep are adopted brother Buddy's snappy snare (tighter than an Italian tenor's trousers), kickarse kickdrum and splashy cymbals, punching out the rhythm. Paul Weller knocks out a pretty cool rendition, but the gangsters probably outdo it, pushing the envelope just a little.
Siolo, to boot, is one of the most soulful singers gigging today and, though it may be sacrilege to say it, while he mightn't be quite as incomparably golden as Marvin or Donny, it's no exaggeration to put him on the same pedestal as, say, Luther Vandross, or Anthony Hamilton (check him out, dudes). He justified this entirely with the brothers' next selection, a seriously funked-up take on Grover Washington Jr.'s Just The Two of Us, one of my all-time favourites. It also afforded Banel ample space to stretch out with a blistering guitar solo. Between him and Andro, there are two humble Hendrixes in one band.
Both Andro and Banel get a turn to shine with Toto's Georgy Porgy. Dauno holds the line, while Fenix brings up the middle with almost Abba-esque piano chords. From Buddy, crisp, inventive fills and the ever-present world's best practice dimpled smile. Talk about kissing the girls and making 'em cry.
We also got a taste of The Gap Band, too; also, as it happens a band of brothers. Fenix knocked out the tastiest of jazz-inflected piano solos. Dauno, the dominator, makes his presence felt, as always. A ballad followed and if my memory wasn't as compromised as it is by one or ten too many beers, I'd be able to relate more than Andro's sizzling solo. Suffice to say, when they do others' songs, G of B risk giving the maligned descriptor 'covers band' a good name.
Next thing we knew, the diminutive but nonetheless slightly dangerous Collis was back at the mike to inform us of Mr K's respectful request not to deploy the expletive 'fuck!' Her riposte was it was good enough in '36. In any case, she was there to introduce Casey Lynn, which she did by addressing, first, the gentlemen. Prepare yourselves to experience lust, she cautioned. And the ladies? Chronic insecurity, as regards body image.
Casey's dance pedigree is inarguable and it comes clearly to the fore in her burlesque. Not everyone seems to 'get' burlesque. In these politically correct, paranoid times, there are those who will and do judge the women involved, dismissing them as strippers, dedicated to the destruction feminist ideals. This misses the theatrical point, methinks; let alone the parodical element that largely defines the genre. Suffice to say, Lynn has the sass to carry it off. Unfortunately, though, the current setup at The Roseville Club isn't conducive: with the band's equipment on the elevated stage, the burlesque ms. was relegated to the dance floor in front, affording next to no vision to those of us stationed towards the back of the elongated space. Pity.
The Dancekool Crew are as kool as they come, engaged, as they are, with the true spirit of hip-hop, holding dance-offs on the streets of Chippendale. They all hail from the first-ever street dance school established in Sydney. The pop, lock and break to classic block party tunes. Of course, some of these techniques and styles go back further than you might think. Popping, for example, was one of the original funk styles of the sixties and seventies (think Billy Preston). A suite of robotic movement, beating hearts, an homage, perhaps, to Ra and a tribute to MJ: all interpolated with imagination, precision and a palpable sense of fun.
Rachel was up again, to deliver one of her best, in Spaghetti Bolognaise; a song that masquerades as being about culinary routine but is, in fact, about bedroom aerobics. In her inimitable way, it manages to make you laugh and almost cry, at once.
To Unchain My Heart, Athena Wood set pulses racing with a Bunnings issue heavy metal necklace, suspenders, the ubiquitous ostrich feathers and a diaphanous wrap. Interval came at an opportune time, allowing things to cool off a little.
The second act opened with more from Dancekool, which seemed to really captivate the crowd. But then so did Porcelain Alice, a twiggy, theatrical dancer with a surly sizzle. She occupies a space somewhere between Playboy bunny, silent movie femme fatale and fairytale princess, with a glamourous presentation underpinned by pins that have spent long hours at the barre. Who could follow that, save for, perhaps, Casey Lynn, who did, with her take on Smooth Criminal. It was certainly smooth, but may've contained adult themes the likes of Fred Nile might construe as criminal.
Collis was up again, with a birthday song for her hubby, detailing the finer points and geographical detail of his openly expressive penchant for flatulence.
Gang of Brothers returned for a second, most welcome set, opening with their hit waiting to happen, Get Up (On Ya Feet 'n' Testify). It's the sort of sound that could make you testify, to the divinity of funk. With its rocking' beat, (speaking of Billy Preston) syncopated clavinet, fiery organ flourishes, taut bottom-end, bluesy guitar and pumped-up propulsion, it's the sound of sex. And the gangsters keep it nailed down with the earthiest of songs, Going To The Pub; an authentic document of the great Australian pastime. Now you can dance your way there, clapping your hands. And they kept it coming, with versions of Miss You, Sunshine of Your Love, Superstition and an improvised sequence the band used as an invitation to Dancekool to freestyle which, again, held the crowd spellbound. The whole room was throbbing and sweating a river; resistance was useless, even for strict Baptists or burlesque performers.
Mr K can be justly proud of his programme. K, clearly, stands for kool.
Mr K's Cabaret
Venue: The Roseville Club | 64 Pacific Highway, Roseville NSW
Date: October 25, 2013
Tickets: $24 pre-paid | $29 at the door