Straight to You

Triple J’s Tribute to Nick Cave - The Royal Theatre. 16 Nov 2011

Music Director – Cameron Bruce

If I were Nick Cave, I’d be feeling pretty chuffed right now, as this stellar ensemble of Australian musicians paying homage to the man may have just bumped his status from iconic to legendry.

A refreshingly organic production, each performer brought their own unique style, talent and appreciation of Nick Cave’s music to the stage, while at the same time collaborating to work across genres.

There is always the risk when bringing together such a diverse bunch of musicians for collaborations that they won’t gel well collectively. However, their obvious love of Cave’s music really got some creative juices flowing between them and the artistic experiment paid off – with an epic result.

With the band led by musical director Cameron Bruce, Spiderbait drummer Kram kicked off the night doing both drums and some sultry vocals for Red Right Hand – confirming he’s not just a whizz with the sticks.

Muscles followed with a gravelly Do You Love Me?, accompanied by supercharged Burnie Blackman pelting out the backup, and then sat down for a slightly disjointed but sincere solo of Let Love In.

Enter rock chick Abbe May, who seemed a little vocally modest to begin with, but nonetheless rocked the socks off the Royal Theatre with her guitar solo for Lie Down Here and Be My Girl – oozing the dark sexuality that is Cave’s trademark.

Travelling all the way from London to be part of the show was Sparkadia’s Alex Burnett, who then gave his signature flavour to Rowland S Howard’s, Shivers.

The only disappointment of the night was Alex Burnett’s and Lanie Lane’s take on Where the Wild Roses Grow, which lacked some of the chemistry required for such a strange and haunting piece of work and felt a little like karaoke.

However, this was followed by a totally wild version of Nick the Stripper by Children Collide’s Johnny Mackay, who gave one of the stagehands the workout of a lifetime when he gleefully and repeatedly kicked down the mic throughout his screeching tirade before moving on to a more sedate, People Just ‘Aint No Good.

Accompanied by piano accordion, Lisa Mitchell did an enchanting version of The Ship Song, with her glorious lulling voice underscoring the beauty of his lyrics.

Bringing some groove to the evening was Jake Stone with a too cool for school dub version of The Weeping Song, after which we were served a hip hop retake of O Children led by The Herd’s Urthboy and joined by Alex Burnett and Burnie Blackman on soul backup.

Dan “sex on legs” Sultan sent the ladies into a frenzy with an insane My Sweet Deanna for the finale to the first act, with competition for the attention from Kram’s Animal-style drum solo; the spectators well and truly warmed up at this stage and hungry for more.

Act two saw the return of Abbe May for another raucous guitar solo for Depth Charge Ethel, that completely brought down the house, with Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen trailing with a stunningly whimsical tribute to the show’s namesake - Straight to You, that was so completely worthy of the original.

An absolute highlight of the evening was Lisa Mitchell’s ethereal and incredibly tender Into My Arms, which, with some effective ‘lights from heaven’, cut right to the soul and the brief hush at the end indicated people were entirely captivated.

Following was Kram with another vocal contribution along with Lisa and Dan Sultan for There is a Kingdom - which also featured a little Sultan country twang for something special.

Theatrical storytelling is part and parcel of Cave’s style, and the cast didn’t let him down in this respect, as Urthboy rapped his way through a slick Stagger Lee, complete with dramatic punctuation from Stone, Barnett and Lane.

Taking advantage of the build up, Burnie Blackman then stormed the stage for a throbbing, heart-stopping rendition of The Mercy Seat, with Kram then taking things down with a stripped back Henry Lee.

Lanie Lane really pulled out all the stops next, smashing it up with a rip roaring and incredibly saucy Jack the Ripper, with the boys on backup vocals and the band going absolutely bananas.

While the crowd around the stage had been reasonably sedate up until now, Dan Sultan’s mind-blowing finale, Get Ready for Love, finally stirred some action and the place became a carnival.

So revved up was the audience that it got the encore it demanded and were treated with an insane Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry featuring the whole ensemble (with Sultan hoeing down on bongoes!) led by Adalita; spitting out lyrics with vitriol and strutting her stuff like Mick Jagger.  It was an electric scene that quite rightly drew a standing ovation from those of us seated and complete madness from the floor.

It would have been nice to see a show like this in a more intimate setting, as the expanse of the Royal Theatre felt a little impersonal. However, this eclectic melange of talent gave so much passion for the cause that the space soon radiated with their energy as they jammed their hearts out.

A big congratulations to Triple J, Cameron Bruce and all the incredible performers who put their hearts into this project and dared to try something different and getting it so completely right.

It was also inspiring seeing some strong female leads in a show like this, bringing a whole other dimension to this typically masculine music. It was an unforgettable cultural experience that has done Cave’s work proud.

Deborah Hawke