Review by Ben Connolly
With two solid solo albums, and a couple of glorious collections of covers, Something For Kate frontman Paul Dempsey has become a mainstay of the Australian music scene. Backed by a cracking live band, his gigs have become a known quantity.
Opening the Melbourne Zoo Twilights show is singer-songwriter Melody Pool, whose admittedly gloomy folk is superbly backed by a string section. This is not happy background music and demands more buy in than a picnic rug set is possibly willing to provide. Still, a late set Fleetwood Mac cover and an earnest delivery of her single Black Dog in closing does cut through and give a glimpse of the reasons for the massive amounts of critical praise heaped on the singer songwriter.
Dempsey has solidly and steadily made a name for himself in his gentleman orator of the Australian music scene. His oracle extends to gorgeous twisting and curling narratives on the vagaries of modern life. Last year’s second album Strange Loop continued the intricate themes, and in the live setting the are given even greater depth and flesh. An early set triumvirate of new songs highlights his place on this pedestal, culminating in a thumping exposition of the hooky and desperate Morningless.
Thumping is a curious way to describe what, on paper, are clearly intricate and rather fragile songs. They revolve and twist around sometimes impossible rhythms and turns that it’s sometimes hard to envisage on a stage. However, his now settle live band is backed by some serious chops and pull it off with aplomb. Leading the all-star pack is The Gin Club’s Adrian Stoyles on guitar and sometimes keys, while a mouth-watering rhythm section of Pat Bourke and Shannon Vaderwelt (of Dallas Crane fame) provides a good base. Olivia Bartley (better known as Olympia) tries her hands at most parts of the ensemble depending on what each song called for, topping it off with back vocals to harmonise alongside Dempsey’s impossibly increasing register.
A great part of any Dempsey gig is the choice of covers he slips into the set. He has a massive back catalogue of reinterpretations to choose from, but it’s somewhat surprising given the news of the day that a Midnight Oils classic is passed over for a relatively obscure version of The Pixies’ Dig For Fire. Still, it provides a crunchy point for Dempsey and Bartley to stick their teeth into, and it fits perfectly into the escalating mid-set oeuvre. The gig is a fitting nod to Dempsey’s class, and further cements his ascension to the ranks of genuine gentleman poets of Australian music.
Melbourne Zoo Twilights presented by ANZ
Photos by Ian Laidlaw