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RAW: The Bedroom Philosopher – Jive Bar, August 12

The Bedroom Philosopher is no stranger to Adelaide, having made appearances during several Fringe Festivals as well as doing gigs in between. Recently, he has performed a couple of times a year in various bars around town, always attracting a good crowd of dedicated followers.

On a cold Thursday night, the Jive Bar on Hindley Street was close to full as he took to the stage with his quirky blend of comedy and music. The audience was brimming with enthusiasm, the mood having been well set by local support acts Guilliame Soloacoustic and Cookie Baker. Joined for the first time in Adelaide by his backing group The Awkwardstra, the performance had a more robust sound to go with his amusing lyrics.

The Bedroom Philosopher’s latest album, Songs From the 86 Tram – derived from his award winning Melbourne Comedy Festival show of the same name – is a collection of tunes based on the people you meet on public transport. The current single Northcote (So Hungover) is enjoying strong popularity and the live rendition did not disappoint. In amongst other tracks from this album, a couple of older songs also made an appearance, with a great version of Folkstar and the ever amusing Generation ABC both big crowd pleasers.

A highly entertaining and aurally pleasing night out. The Bedroom Philosopher capably mixes music and comedy in such a way that going to see him perform is worth it every time.

Kryztoff Rating: 4K

RAW: European Masters: Staedel Museum – NGV – Till 10th Oct

Continuing the great series of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, this year’s European Masters features almost 100 works by 70 artists from the Staedel Art Museum in Frankfurt, one of Germany’s oldest and most respected museums. The works are here, exclusively to Melbourne, as a result of the host museum undergoing renovations.

What’s on offer is unlike most curated exhibitions, being works with a tight collective theme, but rather what it is, a selection of the Staedel’s permanent collection of some 2700 paintings, 600 sculptures and more than 100,000 prints and drawings. As such it has items from across two centuries, with a strong Germanic core and spanning all manner of styles. Unlike perhaps how the publicity posters feature it, this is not another Impressionists wonderland, with items from that genre limited to about a dozen. Nonetheless, real artistic treats await the visitor.

The exhibition opens with Tischbein’s Goethe in the Roman Campagna from 1786, perhaps paying homage to Frankfurt’s son, regarded by many as Germany’s finest author. Amongst the Impressionist works is the stand out Renoir, La Fin du Dejeuner, though just what its meaning is remains unclear. The only artist with a true focus throughout is Max Beckmann. Born in 1884, Beckmann was profoundly affected by his involvement in World War 1 that altered his traditional depictions to distortions of both figures and space. These changes and many of his self and other portraits are featured in their own room. His Double Portrait (1923) portraying the wife and the mistress of the then director of the Staedel is notable if nothing else for its audacious subject matter.

As a tour through styles across 200 years, European Masters stands on its own. It certainly begs the question what will the next 100 years produce to match the upheavals and development of forms of this era. But, as a result, visitors will need to maintain an open mind and not allow their own preferences to prejudge works or rooms.  This is helped by copious notes on the audio guide that both explain the specific works as well as place paintings in their context of both the exhibition and art movements generally.

Another Melbourne art treat this winter.

Kryztoff Rating  4K

RAW: Tex Perkins in The Man In Black – Her Majesty’s

When people talk about The Man in Black, everyone knows to whom they refer. In this case however, it’s not just to Johnny Cash but also to Tex Perkins, who provides a wonderful tribute to him in this pleasurable and condensed serving of his life and music. In addition to renditions of many of Cash’s best known hits, such as A Boy Named Sue and Fulsome Prison Blues, it included several duets and some lesser known pieces, interspersed with snippets of personal history.

Perkins is an experienced and charismatic front man and he held the audience’s attention throughout. His vocals were beyond impressive, capturing the essence and emotion of the originals. Filling the role of June Carter in the duets and helping Perkins to tell the story in between songs, Rachael Tidd was likeable and did a pleasing job of her vocals. Supporting the singers were the cheekily named Tennessee Four, who provided skilled musical backing, adding to the fullness of the sound.

There was never a lapse in the popularity of Cash, but the success of the 2005 biopic Walk the Line can perhaps be credited with bringing the music, and the man, back to the forefront of the public consciousness. The audience crossed many demographic boundaries, showing the wide appeal of this show, and reacted with great enthusiasm. As good as the above film was, there’s something about hearing the music played live that really gets the heart soaring and this production certainly did that.

Kryztoff Rating 4K

RAW: Ziggy Diagne – Nexus – 23 July

Unfortunately only a sparse crowd came to Nexus last night to hear Ziggy Diagne and his four piece ensemble play his high energy fusion of African, Salsa and other Latin rhythms. The setting was also not helped by a late start due to Ziggy et al losing their way, drums tumbling over during songs and musicians tripping over cords on stage. However, the second half was worth the wait.

Then Senegalese, Ziggy, (who, in a white jump suit adorned with small flags and with his hair in a bun on the top of his head looked like a cross between Whoopi Goldberg and Buzz Aldrin), got into his stride with brilliant control of his formidable kora that seemed to inject boundless hand energy into his two drummers, Funkalleros and Dunumbra. The interplay between them was spellbinding as the reggae funk, rap and jazz beat grew in intensity, the groovy M’balah rhythms, unique to Senegal, roaring through.

Before moving to WA in 2000, Diagne played and toured internationally for ten years in the Baaba Maal band as a drummer, dancer and choreographer. He has also performed on stage with the likes of Carlos Santana and Youssou N’Dour and has recorded with Assane Thiam (regarded by many as the world’s best talking drum player.)

Before a small, mostly middle aged audience, getting reciprocated energy from the dance floor before him was always going to be a struggle. However, one could imagine a WOMAD crowd going absolutely silly at the height of a performance (with good gunja only adding to the tsunami of energy and power and chills of ecstasy that would ripple through such an audience.)

Ziggy and friends deserved more support than they got last night but it was a richly rewarding experience nonetheless.

Kryztoff Rating  4K

RAW: Mumford & Sons – Thebby 22nd August

Mumford & Son’s have managed to create the perfect balance of folk and rock; pairing banjos and mandolins with heavy drum beats and intense guitar. They opened their Adelaide gig with the first, and title, track of their hugely popular album Sigh No More, which borrows various quotes from the work of Shakespeare to create a beautiful ode to the affect of love.

The majority of their songs interweave such traditional references with original, highly poetic lyrics, accompanied by soaring vocals and impressive instrumental lines. It would be easy for pieces with such subject matter to become clichéd, but in the hands of these lads the final product is rather an uplifting, engaging and genuine celebration, while still touching on the less positive aspects, of the experience.

When a song is as popular as their Triple J Hottest 100 chart topping Little Lion Man, there’s a danger that the crowd will be made up of people who don’t know the majority of the band’s songs. This was quite clearly not an issue, with hundreds of voices singing along to even the album tracks that don’t get much radio air-play.

The crowd was enthusiastic from the get-go, but built to frenzy during the rendition of Winter Winds; the brass section brought on tour ensuring that the live experience matched that produced on the recording. With the final song of the night, The Cave, the whole room was bouncing and the joy in the air was palpable. Happily, the new songs included in the set list left no-one in any doubt that there is much more fantastic music to come from Mumford & Sons. 

Kryztoff Rating 5K

RAW: Superheroes – Space Theatre, until July 24

A group of people sit. Each is unique but all share in a sense of exhaustion. The glare of fluorescent lights overhead creates the appropriate institutionalised atmosphere. This is a “rest home” and an air of boredom abounds. For the next hour, the beliefs, experiences and ideals of the motley bunch of characters are explored, with themes of war, faith, and destiny rising to the surface.

Stone/Castro has produced a piece which uses theatre, dance and visual imagery to create a world of desolation and confusion, with a flicker of hope thrown in for good measure. Though, at times, the tangled nature of the piece can be a little trying, there are several affecting montages and some engaging dialogue.

The quality of the performances varied; both across the cast and within individual characterisations. As the returned soldier haunted by his past and desperate for a different future, Nick Bennett gave a strong central performance, though could have given more fire to the part, particularly in the flashes of anger and desperation.

Lewis Rankin’s portrayal of the young man who finds himself caught up in this surreal world and risks allowing the residents’ nightmares to become his own, is also commendable; with particularly impressive control shown during his featured dance piece.

Though probably not appealing to those who prefer their theatre more straight forward and plot driven, this show incorporates both powerful and humorous imagery and presents many ideas worthy of consideration and rumination.

Kryztoff Rating 3K

RAW: Greenberg – Film – 3.5K

Reviewed by Lucy Campbell

Greenberg is the story of 40 year old Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) and his return to his native LA after a nervous breakdown and mental hospital stay. Writer/director Noah Baumbuch’s film charts his relationships with old friend and ex bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), ex lover Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and affair with his brother’s personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig).

At it’s core Greenberg defies the conventions of plot, instead focusing on the intricacies of relationships and the title character’s manic depression, which a brave Stiller plays without the comic stylings that we’re so accustomed. It’s Stiller’s film and he plays the role to a tee: the detachment from his surroundings, OCD behaviour, alienation and complete self-obsession. Unfortunately, all these things mean his character is ultimately pretty unlovable, and his fractured character gradually becomes whining and so downright rude, you question why anybody bothers to hang out with him.

But this is a film of a man railing against the world, against LA, against his desires and against himself. Stiller’s self-destructive Greenberg feels real, as does the loose ends of Gerwig’s Florence. Everybody in this film runs in circles, and by the end one feels thoroughly exhausted though not entirely confident anyone will break the cycle. There are the occasional muted chuckles, but it isn’t by any stretch a ‘Ben Stiller Film’ – more of an awkward insight into emotional freefall and neurosis as we slowly watch Greenberg self-destruct and then attempt to pick up the pieces. Though by no means a bad film, Greenberg still leaves you a little empty as the credits roll.

Kryztoff Rating   3.5K

RAW: Inception – Film – 3.5K

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team including Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Saito (Ken Watanabe), already experts in ‘excavation’ – penetrating and deducing the contents of people’s dreams – now decide to try their hand at ‘inception’, the planting of an idea in the sub-conscious. Their target is the son (Cillian Murphy) of a family patriarch (Pete Postlewaite) in order to stop that family’s company dominating world energy supplies. To do this they enlist the support of student, Ariadne (Ellen Page) but in the process find Cobb’s own sub-conscious demons a barrier to progress once they start entering the various levels of the dreams they come to possess.

Sound complex? Well it is, exceedingly! Right from the start, writer and director, Christopher Nolan has Inception burst forth and many may find they lose their way from early on. The dreams are multi layered, each existing in its own time zone and all possessing baddies with guns who don’t seem to be able to aim straight. But as much as the dreams are constructs of the imagination, the inconsistencies of plot add to the viewing dilemmas with the impact of dying in a dream just one imponderable.

In many ways, this film has its similarities with DiCaprio’s Shutter Island from earlier this year but none of the acting finesse he showed in that. This is for the most part a one fast pace anxiety fix for DiCaprio. Page adds a pretty face and Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the straight laced technician of the team. The sets are extraordinary as is the imagination that dreamt this up. But at the end one had to ask why all the bother. Sci-fi fans will love it and a second viewing may assist in understanding but many I suspect will allow the non-stop action to entertain well after the machinations of the plot have passed them by.

Kryztoff Rating – 3.5K

RAW: Superheroes – Space – July 20-24

The publicity image of a prone Superman may suggest Superheroes, which enjoys its world premiere at the Space this week, is a light hearted romps. On the contrary, this Stone / Castro production explores weightier issues reflecting on war and exploring man’s vision for the domination of the earth.

In an unknown rest home, six characters regaining their strength to return to their lives the way they were, come together including a Muslim who has been in a coma for 20 years, a born-again Christian, a pregnant woman who has been in jail and a soldier fresh back from the Iraq war. Together, they project their vision for the future onto a young boy who is there doing work experience.

As fiction and reality blur we witness the madness and trauma of war through the soldier’s hallucinations, turning the characters to saviours and heroes for hope and salvation and faith and drugs for escape and shelter.

Directed by Jo Stone (who also plays the role of the pregnant woman) and written by Paulo Castro, Superheroes promises to be thought provoking theatre and worthy of exploration from Wednesday to Saturday evening (with a Friday 1pm matinee.)

RAW: ABBA World – Melbourne – To End Oct

Elitists may cringe at the thought that such a topic be a major exhibition but given their role in world music in the 1970s and 80s and in various guises since, ABBA makes for a fascinating revisit.

This exhibition in Federation Square, in the old Racehorse Hall of Fame site, covers everything you would want to know and wish to indulge with the Swedish Fab Four (other than perhaps having them over for dinner.) The material from their folk singing days through to the final chapters of their time together is all there – interviews, the recording studios, how they toured, the get-ups etc etc.

Adults and children alike can indulge themselves in remixing, singing and recording their own versions of the hit songs as well as appearing on stage with Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida and then collect their own DVD of it all to take home at its conclusion. Oh the wonders of modern technology and what it can do for interactivity at exhibitions.

I was surprised to learn what an important role Australia played in their success, adoring the group in the wake of the Eurovision Song Contest triumph with Waterloo when most of Europe was only luke warm. It was this hype from down under (at least allegedly) that reignited interest in the group in the Northern Hemisphere and saw them surge again – another Molly triumph? – I just can’t remember.

But ABBA World also reminds you of what excellent songs Benny and Bjorn produced and how superb the girls were singing them, both vocally and visually. That complexity and competence is often lost in the apparent ease and excess of their performances.

Not cheap at $35 for an adult but one can spend a good two hours wandering the various levels and if all that downloading stuff takes your fancy, then good value abounds. A great visit back in time to timeless popular music but expect to be humming Ring Ring long after you have got home.