Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The anchovy in the apple pie - Tim Minchin vs. the MSO

Music is an element of a lot of comedians' acts.

Conversely, comedy is an element of a lot of musicians' shows. 

The thing about Tim Minchin is that I don't know whether he is an extremely witty comedian who just happens to be remarkably musical, or an astonishingly good musician who just happens to be hilarious. 

He's usually referred to as a comedian, but after last night's performance, backed by a 60 odd piece orchestra, plus bass and drums, I can't help but suspect that Tim's natural comedic skills have simply been honed into a particularly impressive vehicle by which to showcase musical talent that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks of a society that seemingly has less and less time for quality musicianship. 

As for his apparent penchant for wooing an audience, lulling them into a false sense of security with beautiful lyrics and seductive orchestration, only to say the most appalling thing one could possibly think of to say in that particular moment, well, that's just the anchovy in the apple pie that is Tim Minchin. 

The trailer above is for his new DVD, but gives a feel for the type of show currently re-touring Australia, after the success of last year's tour in the same style. 

Missing the show in Melbourne last year was in fact the catalyst for me making a promise to myself that I would be more pro-active in buying tickets and then actually going to live events that I wanted to see, rather than engaging in the less fun activity of mentioning multiple times to friends, "oh yeah, I want to see that", only to become apathetic closer to the date and not do anything about it - an activity with which I was well acquainted. 

Since making said promise, I've seen dozens of live shows and have since started this blog to go some way towards capturing these experiences, so I'm very grateful for Tim for starting me on a path that, roughly a year later, has rewarded me with something rare - almost a literal "rerun" of the show I missed. 

Last night's show started with a bang, as well as a familiar Minchin irony, where the very thing he's trying to take the piss out of - in this case, so-called superstars trying to out-do each other with grand or gimmicky entrances - turns out in fact to be particularly impressive. 

Similarly, his subsequent self-deprecating tale of the "Rock and Roll Nerd" made reference to writing song after song that the world will never hear, despite the fact that he now tours the world, selling out theatres and making frequent television appearances in Australia, the US and most particularly the UK, where the Aussie-born Perth native mainly resides these days. 

This flimsy but somewhat charming affair with imaginary mediocrity continued once he started talking, behaving awkwardly, as if he'd never done non-musical stand-up before. Ever the social observer, he drew attention to how uncomfortable some audience members were, seeing a comedian on stage stuttering and lost for words, and assured them that he'd tell a joke soon and it would all be better. 

And it was. 

The first half was comparatively tame, particularly with respect to social taboos. The main exception being "Context", a song I won't describe any further in case you ever have the unfortunate experience of taking part in this social experiment, no doubt executed predominantly for Tim's amusement, whereby perhaps a dozen people applauded meekly at the end, if only because they were too polite to let the crickets chirp unaccompanied. 

But of course it wasn't really the end, and we all got to breathe a big sigh of relief when it turned out that "Surprise!", Tim wasn't actually an abhorrent, racist, homophobic lunatic after all. Phew. 

What he is though is a fierce atheist, so he tackled the apparently ludicrous notion of prayer-invoked miracles early on in the show. In the second half, he tore shreds off the Vatican with his Pope Song and Pope Disco combo, which has pretty much blown my swearing tolerance quota for the year, but other than that, and a brief discussion about sacredness whereby he placed a copy of the Qur'an on the piano and mused about why a particular object holds so much power ("such as the power to make 3000 generally jovial Melbournians suddenly very nervous"), he generally left his notorious pet peeves of religion and spirituality alone. 

He demonstrated his ability to pen a beautiful love song, superbly orchestrated and titled "You Grew on Me", which also happened to be the first four words of the ballad. One could be forgiven for thinking we were about to hear something delightfully inspiring, in the same vein of his genuinely moving song, "White Wine in the Sun", had the remaining three words of the first line not been "like a tumour."    

Near the end of the first half, he played one of my favourite of his songs, entitled "Prejudice". 

I admit to being very confused though when Captain Irony asked everyone in the audience to sing along.

The second half started with a volley of gags that you feel you really shouldn't laugh at but can't help doing anyway. That led appropriately into "Lullaby", a deceptively sweet little ditty which is enough to make most non-parents a little queasy. 

Luckily, most of Tim's audience seemed to be parents of young children, who tend to be the ones that best appreciate a song dedicated to the increasingly morbid and disturbing thoughts that might enter the head of a beyond-tired father trying desperately to sing his child to sleep. 

"Cheese" and "Beauty" were back-to-back contrasting showcases of the musical talent of everyone on stage, a showcase that culminated in "Dark Side", Tim's notorious closing song that would surely leave anyone wondering how this artist does not get greater recognition as one of Australia's most gifted musical exports. 

This question was perhaps answered in part, during a frenzied "free jazz" moment in the midst of the drama and dark humour of the piece, when Tim cried out for a "conductor solo!"

Conductor (and long time friend of Tim's) Iain Grandage immediately obliged, turning briefly towards the audience and cutting through the sudden silence by gesturing wildly with his baton. 

Tim's encore was a genuinely lovely song titled "Not Perfect" - orchestrated beautifully by Iain (a task and privilege he'd apparently negotiated in return for touring with Tim) and a delightful way to end the night. 

Excellent comedy. Truly amazing music. Sporadically thought-provoking lyrics. 

The only thing missing was the standing ovation that Tim, Iain, Pete Clements (bass), Ben Vanderwal (drums) and the entire Melbourne Symphony Orchestra truly deserved. 

But then, he's just a comedian, right? 

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