Sunday, 25 March 2012

Acoustic Magic @ Revolver with Michael Paynter and friends

I had no idea Revolver was that small.

For years, I've heard of gigs happening at "Revolver Upstairs", but I'd never actually made it there until last Wednesday night.

It's roughly the size of a large lounge room, perhaps like one you'd find in a house that has a fully stocked bar and stage in their lounge room.

Ok, so logistics are not my speciality, but still, I think you'd be hard-pressed to fit more than a hundred people in there* (though I get the feeling it's the type of place that does exactly that, frequently).

In any case, it looked fairly busy when I arrived, in that all the couches were taken and they were fresh out of leaning space at the bar. In comparison to later, when Michael Paynter finally emerged, however, it was positively spacious.

*Edit: Did I mention logistics are not my strong suit? I've discovered that the Revolver bandroom in fact has a capacity of 320 people, and, given that almost every square inch of space was occupied by the end of the night, there must have been close that many packed in - the point I was trying to make was that it certainly felt like a very intimate gig, despite my complete inability to even roughly estimate a headcount ;-) 

Jordan Clarey - 19 years old and well on his way... 

Jordan Clarey
Photo: Jordan Clarey 
It's a shame that more of Michael's audience couldn't have arrived sooner, myself included, because his first support act, Jordan Clarey, is clearly a rising star. I arrived half-way through what turned out to be his last number, so he's another act I'll need to catch properly another day.

Apparently Jordan is auditioning for X-Factor this weekend, so, with some trepidation, I wish him all the best.

I'm hesitant only because, with his youth and his pin-up worthy image, he could look dangerously like pop fodder to anyone looking to make some quick money out of "the next big thing", when he could otherwise be laying the groundwork for a more long-term music career, that is rarely helped by being moulded and "reworked" and thrust into the national spotlight too soon.

After all, Justin Bieber's backers swear up and down that he's an extremely talented musician underneath all those layers of artificial choreography, stylised image and highly-processed music, and I suspect it to be true. However now, despite all of his - albeit remarkable - success, the manufactured "pop sensation" that is the "Justin Bieber" the world knows has become the butt of most musicians' jokes (Paynter included).

But I digress.

Listening to some of the tracks off Jordan's EP, "Calm Before the Storm", coupled with what I saw of his performance on Wednesday night, I believe he's well on his way to a very successful music career, one way or the other, and I look forward to hearing more.

Selena Cross - sounds of Silence... 

With a very early morning looming for me, I was initially a bit grumpy that I had to wait almost another hour to see Michael, but by her second number, a beautiful ballad called "Your Colour Blue", Selena Cross had already won me over.

Selena Cross, "The Other Side"
Photo: Selena Cross
(album cover, "The Other Side") 
She shared some "family favourites", starting with the uplifting "I'm Not Lost", a song her young son was apparently singing along to with great fervour during rehearsal, followed by her mum's favourite, "Travelling Warrior", and finally "My Old Man and the Sea", which she wrote for her father.

When you realise that someone is about to cover a song as incredibly popular as Adele's "Someone Like You", it's a strange and not altogether terribly pleasant feeling, but Selena put her own energy into the song, giving it almost a country vibe, and ended up doing it very well.

In fact, inventive covers seemed to be the order of the night, with all of them being a pleasure to listen to.

Selena's last number of the set was "Silence", a beautiful track that demonstrated her talents on vocals and keys, not to mention substantial her song-writing ability.

So the over-sized lounge room was filled to capacity when Michael Paynter finally took to the stage, close to 10pm.

Michael Paynter - part Elvis, part Farnsie, all muso...

Michael Paynter
Photo: Michael Paynter 
At the start of the year, I had no idea who Michael Paynter was. I only learnt about him when Iva Davies introduced him during the Icehouse concert that I went to last month and he did a fabulous job on vocals for "Man of Colours" - no mean feat, given that I couldn't really imagine anyone except Iva singing that song.

I now realise that he's had considerable success over the years, seemingly along with a few roadblocks, and, although the first thing that struck me when he opened with "Shadows" was how much he sounded like John Farnham, I'm reluctant to go on about it, given that it seems to be the first thing most music writers point out.

Then again, being constantly compared to one of the most successful Australian artists of all time must surely have an upside.

The Internet is not being very helpful in providing me with an accurate discography or history for Michael, but the most important element seems to be that he released an album in December of last year called Money On Your Tongue, from which he drew several songs, including "Novacaine" and "Fake Away", as well the title track itself, for his acoustic performance.

Evidently a massive Elvis fan, he also shared with us one of the covers from the album, namely his re-imagined version of Elvis Presley's "Devil In Disguise".

In introducing the cover, he spoke of how valuable the process of re-inventing a classic song could be; stripping it down, working on it, rebuilding it, etc... He suggested that in the end, you either end up with "a musical black hole of crap" or something really special. Thankfully, on this occasion, he came up with the latter - an almost haunting version that delivered the message of the song in a way that allowed me to appreciate it much more.

He also delivered a new single which was called "Weary Stars". He obviously has plans for it, including making it a big number during his upcoming regional tour, and I absolutely see the potential for it becoming an outstanding hit live. It was one of my highlights of Wednesday night and, although I don't think any recording could do it justice, I did find a good quality clip of it to share to give you an idea.

There's a very strong blues influence in Michael's work, which was most evident in his very impressive cover of the classic Little Walter / Elvis Presley song, "My Babe".

Along with his band (that consisted of another guitarist, bassist and back-up vocals), he also covered "Man Of Colours", which of course I'd hoped he'd do, given how I came to discover him. Again, it was a respectful and enjoyable cover, adapted appropriately for what was a completely different set-up and environment.

"I Forgot How To Love" was another touching number, made particularly special by Michael's announcement that it had been short-listed for the 2011 International Song Writing Competition, with winners to be announced next month.

So after a long and enjoyable set, he announced that he was going off stage, was going to take a few breaths, and then return. As we clapped and cheered, he did exactly that, before explaining that an encore was actually in his contract - a bizarre mutation of what it's intended to be, but, as far as this audience was concerned, he was coming back either way, so it all worked out.

His last song seemed like it was going to be "Freedom's Not For Me", another beautiful song from "Money On Your Tongue", yet, as the applause lingered, he started playing again, this time with another really bluesy guitar riff, and sat on it for a while until he revealed what, for me, was the absolute stand-out piece of the night.

Unfortunately the clip missed the start, but you get the idea.

Covering Michael Jackson is a dicey option for any musician, but this blues-infused, acoustic version of "The Way You Make Me Feel" was absolutely magic, and by the end I was close to reverting back to the sixteen year old version of me who saw MJ live all those years ago. Thankfully, for all concerned, I managed to restrain myself.

He is one of very few artists I would say this about, but I'd be very curious to see him tackle a Prince song (not necessarily one of his chart hits).

Wednesday had been a long one, work-wise, and, considering the next day started with a 7:30am committee meeting, I had very nearly skipped this excursion to Revolver altogether. But, remembering a conversation I'd had with a certain gardener (of sorts) recently, I decided to push myself into going. So off I went, flower in my hair and all, and was rewarded with a terrific night of local talent and acoustic loveliness.

Thanks to Jordan, Selena, Michael and all of the musicians (and the sound tech, who we were told made a great sacrifice to be there when the original sound guy got stranded in transit!) for transforming our Wednesday night into something really special.

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