By Will Cox, Cameron Woodhead and Jessica Nicholas
This wrap of shows around Melbourne includes an epic double bill, the return of a much-loved musical, and a rhythm-filled collaboration.
MUSICDef Leppard and Motley Crue: The World Tour ★★★Marvel Stadium, November 14
“Who likes to listen to the old shit?” asks Vince Neil of Motley Crue. The answer is everyone.
Vince Neil performs with Motley Crue at Marvel Stadium, November 14, 2023.Credit: Richard Clifford
As Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot sings in Rock of Ages: “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” Tonight’s ’80s heavy metal icons have done neither. They’ve kept on. Motley Crue and Def Leppard are mostly in their 60s. Both have stuck to power chords and big hair, and both still dress like pirates off to a yacht party.
Motley Crue have always been 20 per cent music and 80 per cent controversy, as seen in hagiographic Netflix biopic The Dirt. But the music has its charms — it’s excessive, dumb, and loud. It belongs here, in a stadium, where the guitars can reverberate and the sheer brainless glam of it all has room to breathe.
Drummer Tommy Lee and bassist Nikki Sixx still thrive on youthful cockiness. But founding guitarist Mick Mars has retired for health reasons, replaced with former Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5, who carries an eerie calm on stage. Lead singer Vince Neil’s voice is thin, and he looks, as my friend put it, “like he’s on about 10 per cent battery”.
Drummer Tommy Lee still thrives on youthful cockiness.Credit: Richard Clifford
Early tracks Shout at the Devil and Live Wire are highlights, sounding a lot more muscular than ’80s recording techniques ever allowed. But a long medley of classic rock covers drags, and the title track from The Dirt limps into a chorus I’m sure is mostly a backing track, along with a little video verse from Machine Gun Kelly, doing a nu-metal rap encapsulating what the Crue stands for as he sees it: tatts, torn jeans, cocaine, and “nice big tits”.
Crue end on a high with their indisputably best track, Kickstart My Heart (opening line: “When I get high, I get high on speed”). The take-home is that dudes rock. Women are also present: in the form of stripper-inspired backing dancers the Nasty Habits, and when Tommy Lee steps out from behind the drum kit to ask to see audience members’ breasts.
If the Crue spent their decades living it up, Def Leppard spent that time practising. They are a dramatically better band on a technical level. Singer Joe Elliot’s voice remains strong, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell still wail, and drummer Rick Allen has never slowed down – even when he lost an arm in 1984.
But as they progress through a set of heavy metal balladry and tight harmonies, their musicality and sheer competence lose their sheen.
If Motley Crue have spent their decades living it up, Def Leppard have spent that time practising.Credit: Richard Clifford
There’s less edge, less danger. Is it possible I miss the cocky excesses of the Crue? Not exactly miss. Appreciate.
Leppard close the night with a trio of their biggest hits, Pour Some Sugar on Me, Rock of Ages, and Photograph, with a video of polaroids of the band down the decades. Their youth is long behind them, and each band is dealing with that in their own way. We all need to find ways to keep the rage, the idiocy and the joy alive.Reviewed by Will Cox
THEATRELa Cage aux Folles ★★★Arts Centre Melbourne, until November 19
If only we could all age with the glamour and dignity of La Cage aux Folles.
Much-loved musical La Cage aux Folles has returned. Credit: John McRae
When it was first performed in Australia in 1985, the musical was on the right side of history and its humane comedy played handmaiden to cultural change; the LGBTQIA+ movement had fewer letters back then, but the cause of queer liberation has made dramatic advances since. Amazing what batting your fake lashes at the future can do.
La Cage is a heartwarming show to revisit in a world where mainstream culture has gone mad for drag, and same-sex couples can choose marriage if they like.
For gay nightclub owner Georges (Michael Cormick) and his drag diva partner Albin (Paul Capsis), tying the knot isn’t an option. They might bicker like an old married couple, though they make a show of being scandalised when their son Jean-Michel (Noah Mullins) announces he intends to wed girlfriend Anne (Genevieve Kingsford).
Mock outrage soon takes a wrenching twist. Anne, it transpires, is the daughter of the socially conservative demagogue Edouard Dindon (Peter Phelps) – a wowser and flagrant homophobe whose idea of family values most certainly does not encompass men flouncing around in ostrich feathers and can-can frocks.
Paul Capsis and Michael Cormick in a scene from La Cage aux Folles.Credit: John McRae
Silver fox Georges can pass, but Albin? Not a chance. When it comes to meeting Anne’s parents, there’s no place at the table for a proud cross-dresser, and the rainbow family ties itself in knots trying to play it straight. Everything goes comically wrong before love triumphs, with the aid of Albin’s friend Jacqueline (Debra Byrne) and a touch of gender illusion.
This revival reminds me of Jeanne Pratt’s The Production Company, which closed in 2020, leaving Melbourne’s musical theatre audiences the poorer for its passing.
The last time I saw La Cage was that company’s 2014 staging with Simon Burke and Todd McKenney, and if Cormick and Capsis don’t achieve the onstage chemistry of that pairing, their individual vocal and comic highlights make up for it.
To hear Capsis sing I Am What I Am is worth the price of a ticket. His cabaret vocals can make you ache. They reach for a soulfulness to anchor all the loose camp in the show (which achieves plenty of height but sometimes – like a loose wig – flies askew). He’s a stark vocal contrast to Cormick’s rich and resonant, Phantom-y romantic lead.
Mullins shines as a lovestruck son who asks the unthinkable of his parents. And Loredo Malcolm dials histrionic humour up to 11 as a butler/maid eager to join a chorus of drag artistes, who enliven the slightly undercooked first act with elaborate costumes, dynamic choreography, and backstage wit.
Sure, this La Cage could use a bit more oomph and discipline and performances that are more responsive to each other, but it remains a moving, funny, and entertaining production of an important and much-loved musical.Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
DANCEButohBar: Out of Order ★★★★Abbotsford Convent, until Nov 19
Butoh dancers translate extreme psychic experiences into grotesque gestures and ecstatic body states. For the relentlessly productive choreographer Yumi Umiumare, this translation is a foundational principle for the creation of immersive theatrical journeys into the bizarre.
Jessie Ngaio performs in ButohBAR: Out of Order.
Although butoh was originally a solo form, Umiumare works with a large and variable ensemble of collaborators. Together, in their sprawling heterogeneous weirdo pageants, they generate fantasies of collective dysfunction and incoherence, crisis and deviancy. Their latest piece plays with concepts of order and disorder. And inevitably this interest is reflected in the structure of the show itself, which alternates between concentrated spectacle and free-form hijinks verging on unscripted abandon.
In the first half, performers dressed – or partially dressed – as robot chickens, fleshy insects and submissives in bondage gear turn themselves inside out in surreal parodies of a cabaret striptease, accompanied by the infernal crooning of Emma Bathgate.
It has a family resemblance to the provocative burlesques of Finucane & Smith, but Umiumare’s ensemble is more committed to dissolution and disarray. There is always movement and noise on the periphery, and everything seems to want to happen all at once. It’s true that the second half of Out of Order is, relatively speaking, less chaotic and demands less of the audience. But the centre never holds for long in this anarchic comedy of malfunction, this roll-up of haphazardly costumed odd bods.
The visual artist Jacqui Stockdale has pieced together a series of elaborate junkyard shrines to eccentricity, which fill the narrow confines of the Industrial School at the Abbotsford Convent, while Ai Yamamoto has designed a glitchy, atmospheric soundscape.
As promised in the show’s title, there’s also a pop-up izakaya sake bar run by Fitzroy’s Tamura,where you can load up on otsumami snacks and chilli plum wine: culinary comfort in the midst ofgroaning absurdity and extroversion.Reviewed by Andrew Fuhrmann
MUSICCoco’s Lunch and the Sai Brothers: Raising Rhythms ★★★★Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, November 14
Partway through Tuesday’s concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the radiant smile on singer Lisa Young’s face wavered ever so slightly. So did her voice, as she told us how honoured she was to have the teacher who introduced her to the art of konnakol – Ravi M. Ravichandhira – sitting in the front row, and his two gifted sons seated on stage beside her.
Young has been incorporating konnakol (South Indian vocal percussion) into her original repertoire for many years now, and it was clear that the launch of this new project held deep significance for her – and all the members of the ensemble.
Rhythm is at the heart of this collaboration between Coco’s Lunch and the Sai Brothers.Credit: Giuseppe Sapienza
Tuesday’s concert was dubbed Raising Rhythms: a fitting title, given that rhythm is at the heart of this collaboration. Long-running a cappella outfit Coco’s Lunch (Young, Jacqueline Gawler, Gabrielle MacGregor and Emma Gilmartin) embrace rhythmic intricacy within their songs, combining luminous melodies and harmonies with shifting time signatures and interlocking vocal riffs.
Here, in the company of brothers Sai-Nivaeithan Ravichandhira and Sai-Sarangan Ravichandhira, the singers had an additional layer of rhythmic textures to work with. On the Indian-inspired tunes like Tha Thin Tha, the singers darted in deft, wordless syllables across the percussionists’ undulating pulse. Tempo of Humanity featured an extraordinary konnakol solo from Young, using breath, pitch and tone to mimic the expressive capabilities of the Sai Brothers’ drums.
There were also songs that drew inspiration from other parts of the world. Chanson Pour Anais was built on traditional West African rhythms and chants, the singers adding djembe and other small percussion instruments to converse with the brothers’ loping phrases on mridangam (double-headed drum) and kanjira (frame drum). And Vivamos Con Esperanza (Let’s Live With Hope) had the uplifting feel of a South American folk song, brimming with lush harmonies and the gentle optimism expressed in the tune’s title.Reviewed by Jessica Nicholas
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