Saturday, 4 February 2012

Can't Help Myself...had to see Icehouse & Hall and Oates @ the Plenary on Thursday night...

Before Prince. Before Michael. Before hypercolour t-shirts...

...there was Iva.

One of my very first pin-up boys, with a poster carefully removed from the centre of TV-Week, no less.

Of course, this was all on my own personal timeline because Icehouse (initially Flowers) didn't release their first album until 1980, but I was still in primary school when I discovered this band that I loved so much - helped in no small part by the piercing blue eyes and delightfully long curly mullet of their frontman, Iva Davies.

Skip forward (please!) to last year, when a re-release of their first album seemed to prompt a surprise gig at the Espy one night - back to their roots, this was a proper pub gig jostle-fest booze up whatever you want to call it.

I lined up with hundreds of other nostalgic bogans in the freezing cold, hoping some punters would leave so that I could take their place in the over-capacity venue and see my first music love play live for the very first time (being that I was too young to go to a gig way back when).

Finally I made it in and it was everything I'd hoped it would be. It was all as I remembered it (minus the mullet) and everyone was singing along. A highlight of the night was Can't Help Myself - the sound was a bit raw at times, but it suited the Aussie rock vibe and we all hoped this was a sign of more gigs to come.

A few months later, that dream was realised when it was announced that Icehouse would be touring with Hall and Oates in early 2012 at the Plenary (as well as some wineries).

The Plenary. The what? Not a pub. Not even close. Part of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Hmmm...

To be honest (and I say this rather sheepishly now), I wasn't so keen on seeing Hall and Oates either. "I know the names, but I wouldn't know any of their songs," I thought to myself.

I let the pre-sale come and go, then the actual sale, hoping that maybe a "better" gig could come along. Just Icehouse. Maybe at the Forum or something? Or back at the Espy? Not the Plenary.

In the meantime, I kept hearing "Hall and Oates" mentioned on the radio. It's like when you're considering buying a red car, so all you see on the road are red cars.

"Private Eyes? Wait. That's Hall and Oates?"

"Rich Girl? That's them too?"

It went on. And on.

So ok, it got to 2 hours before the concert. Yeah. I cut it that fine.

Finally I decided I'd regret not going, so I jumped on the net, grabbed a ticket (luckily singles are usually still available, even if they're right up the back), printed it off, had a bite to eat and took off for the Plenary, whatever that was.

So it turns out the Plenary is a really nice venue. It absolutely isn't a pub-style venue and I suspect the layout and setup would have made it tougher to build the energy in the audience, but the acoustics were good and it definitely had its own appeal.

Act One - Icehouse 

The concert started right on time, to the minute - a startling contrast to a Prince concert, which tends to start, well, whenever Prince decides to start. "Icehouse" was an appropriate opener and it built nicely from quiet and dark to full concert light and volume.

The entire night, what stood out the most was the musicianship of everyone on stage. You'd think this would be (or should be) standard, but it really isn't - though, granted, I've been blessed to see many high quality acts in the last 12 months. There were no passengers in either band. Everyone gave an excellent performance.

Icehouse had so many hits in Australia that the set was pretty much chock full of songs everyone knew. One that is perhaps less known is "Cross the Border", which I found to be an unexpected highlight. It sounded terrific live and sent me back to the album "Measure for Measure" for another listen with a new perspective.

At one stage, Iva gave the mic to band member Michael Paynter, who proceeded to sing Man of Colours.

Initially, I wasn't happy with this, given how beautifully Iva sings it, but Michael has a powerful voice and really did it justice, giving Iva an opportunity to return to the stage with his oboe and remind the audience through his mesmerising playing that oboe was his primary instrument back when he studied at the NSW Conservatory of Music (yes, I'm an Icehouse nerd).

Another highlight for me was Walls, a long-term favourite of mine, as well as Don't Believe Anymore - a song I played over and over again (which in those days involved a lot of rewinding) when I was learning saxophone.

Given that John Oates co-wrote one of Icehouse's biggest hits, Electric Blue, with Iva Davies, it was perfectly appropriate for him to join them on-stage for what was probably their second biggest number of the set. For anyone that had been wondering why they were touring together, this revealed what was surely a big part of the reason and it was great to see them perform it together for what I believe was only the second time ever.

So if that was the second biggest song, what was the biggest? It came after the faux encore, when Iva walked us through the process without actually leaving the stage ("This is where we leave, you clap wildly *cue applause*, we wait, you clap, we wait some more, you keep going wild *cue more applause*, then finally we return!")

They had some fun with "Can't Help Myself" (no, Iva, those of us that were at the Espy that night know that it's not about stubbing your toe, no matter what you had to make up for the G-rated crowd!), before transitioning into "Great Southern Land", their biggest hit and an unofficial anthem here in Oz.

The night was certainly a 2-for-1 deal. Icehouse were not the supporting act, they gave us a concert of their own and it was hugely enjoyable. I still want to see them back in a pub (the Espy, the Corner, the Prince), or just somewhere where we can jump up and dance, but this venue gave an opportunity to really appreciate the music itself - something that admittedly might get lost in the dancing, singing along and - I say this fondly - overall oafishness of Aussie Pub Rock.

Because Icehouse is a pub band, but it's a lot more than that too.

Act Two - Hall and Oates

After a lovely chat with the guy sitting next to me during interval (one of the advantages of going to concerts alone is the people you meet) about the state of the music industry and what needs to happen, etc... it was time for Hall and Oates to take the stage.

I had read something earlier that day about this hugely successful duo, about how their sound is so recognisable, partly because they have been sampled so much in more recent music, but also just because of the number of hits they have had over the years.

Of course, I'd been completely oblivious to this initially, but it's certainly true that even of the songs that I truly didn't recognise (of which there weren't many), the sound was very familiar.

They opened with "Maneater", which was a fun start, and from there they jumped around from era to era, from the most recent to some of their earliest hits.

Like Icehouse before them, I was very impressed with their drummer, as well as their wonderfully enthusiastic percussionist.

Both bands were very guitar-heavy, not exactly a surprise, but it was a delight for me to see Paul Pesco live.

Just as I thought I wouldn't know Hall and Oates' material, you may think you don't know Paul, but there's a very good chance you've heard him playing on something you own, or you may have seen him in concert, particularly if you're a Madonna fan.

I know Paul from The John Blackwell Project's debut album, 4ever Jia. He's got a fabulous sound and, although highly sought after as a session guitarist, he was absolutely terrific live.

But probably the biggest surprise package for me for the whole night was the saxophonist in Hall and Oates' band, Charles DeChant. He offered up the most fantastic solos at various times during the night, including in the midst of the party atmosphere created during their first encore, "You Make My Dreams Come True", which followed "Rich Girl".

Much as I really enjoyed the show, the first encore did feel somewhat obligatory, but the jam session that followed was so vibrant and full of energy that we were all on our feet, clapping and screaming for them to come back in a very genuine desire for a second encore, with which the band willingly obliged.

They finished the night with "Kiss on my List" (she types hesitantly, hoping she's got the order right), which transitioned seamlessly into "Private Eyes", which made for a terrific finish with just enough 80s nostalgia and awkward audience attempts at non-standard clapping rhythms.

I'm so glad I decided at the last minute to head off to the mysterious Plenary and see these Hall and Oates fellows, as well as my beloved Icehouse.

A terrific night of live music - two great acts, head to head - thoroughly entertaining.

Not to forget, of course...

...there was Iva.

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