Kunt and the Gang

Sahara Bar & Restaurant, Melbourne, 11 April, 2013

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There was no gang. Just Monsieur Kunt armed with an iPod filled with cheesy backing tracks to songs that tackled the big issues: the role of imagination in pre-Internet masturbatory practices; the relative merits of using the anal orifice as a vagina; the moral dilemma posed by using pictures of a deceased girlfriend as the pretext for Onanism. Get the picture?

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Kunt is not exactly a sophisticated wit, yet his puerile brand of English humour manages to compel and repel in equal doses. The small, but enthusiastic crowd lapped up his shtick with gusto, especially on ‘Fucksticks’, which, as its composer informs us, is a minor Internet sensation. In turns, homophobic, misogynist, and racist, Kunt manages to appear disarmingly charming, and is never less than totally committed to his act, which consists of zany dance moves, fatuous monologues and, of course, the aforementioned pop tunes on which his reputation rests.

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Kunt goes a long way towards confirming the theory, mostly held by women, that the possession of a penis is detrimental to one’s mental health. In short, Kunt is a demented cross between Benny Hill with Frank Booth (the villain with Tourette’s syndrome from Blue Velvet). I know I shouldn’t like him, but songs like ‘I sucked off a bloke (and didn’t like it)’ just put a smile on my dial (not because I’m homophobic, but because I really hate that Kay Perry song).

Oh, Fucksticks! Check him out at your own risk.

JB Smoove

Thornbury Theatre, 15 December, 2012

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JB Smoove bounds onto the stage to the sound of loud Hip Hop music, and unleashes a torrent of high-octane, expletive-ridden, patter that establishes his credentials as one bad mofo. This guy doesn’t let up. He makes a ruckus! I don’t know what he’s on, but I’ve got to get me some of that shit. He maintains a punishing pace throughout the best part of his 90-minute routine, which pulls out all stops. He spits out one hilarious tale after another, riffing like a jazz musician on a series of classic comedy themes, while illustrating his act with a repertoire of uproarious moves, grooves, and sound effects — he knows how to work a microphone as a prop and as an effects machine. He taps, smashes, and genuinely abuses his SM 58 in the service of his high-energy act, which makes it clear that JB is a distinct entity from Leon Black, the character he plays on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and whose success has given his career a monumental boost.

Smoove is a physical comedian who makes the most of his, pliable expressive face, which he twists and contorts to great effect. He rarely sits still, preferring action to mere stand-up. On one level, he shouldn’t be nearly as funny as he actually is. Most of his routines are politically incorrect rants about sex. We learn that he likes ‘bitches’ in high heels, that he produces prodigious quantities of cum, and that it’s important to give your bitch tittie attention, if you want to keep her satisfied. He also gives the audience occupational health and safety tips on how to have sex standing up without putting your back out, along with several other suggestions for keeping things hot in the bedroom. He gets away with this macho shit because he has an excess of attitude and charm, which, for me at least, neutralises the aggressive tone of his material. JB knows how to take the piss out of himself, and his swaggering, sexually potent persona is an ironic exaggeration, which is oddly endearing.

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To be fair, some of his funniest stories are not about sex. His extended yarn about the pleasures and perils of New York City hot dogs, for example, made the audience hoot and holler. The audience clearly loved him, and he managed to work in a few local references, which didn’t come across as cheesy, or forced. Leon discovered Tim Tams, and used his newfound taste for our national confection as a running gag. He even invited a member of the audience on stage to reprise one of his Leon Black scenes — the local lad delivered a creditable version of Leon, while JB stood in for the absent Larry David.

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JB is a hard working guy. Not only did he deliver an utterly compelling, if somewhat anarchic show, but he moved into the theatre’s foyer immediately after the performance to sign autographs and take photographs with his appreciative fans. He promised to return to Australia, and I have no doubt he’ll redeem his pledge. I’m also sure he’ll be playing a much bigger venue when he returns. The man is a star. Yep, this is shot I like.

 

 

The Flight of the Concords

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, 15th July, 2012

They are masters of self-deprecating banter, and their witty ditties are filled with wry observations about the minutiae of everyday life, but I can’t help feeling that Brett and Jermaine, The Fight of the Concords, the fourth best Folk duo from New Zealand, have lost their mojo. Sure, they’re capable of filling cavernous stadiums with scores of sycophantic fans, and their tales of rock ‘n’ roll excess never fail to impress, but I just don’t buy their shtick anymore.

Hit albums, a successful HBO comedy series, and an impressive list of movie credits have elevated this slightly nerdy Kiwi duo to A-list celebrity status. I suspect that Jermaine is getting more business time than most, and Brett is probably cavorting with the most beautiful women on the planet (as opposed to the most attractive female in the room). These hicks from the sticks of Wellington, New Zealand, are now bona fide global superstars who must be consuming more than the occasional illicit muffin as they tour the world. They can’t be as nice as their stage personas, can they? Of course, trying to ascertain whether the Concords roles actually coincide with their ‘real’ personalities is beside the point. They deserve all the accolades and spoils that come with being talented celebrities, and they did put on a good show. The sound was crisp, the banter rarely lagged, and the songs remain funny, yet I walked away slightly underwhelmed.

I’ll concede that Brett and Jermaine ooze charm, and still have the chops to parody a dizzying array of musical styles, but their material, good as it is, is now getting a little stale. The boys have lost their edge, and are now merely peddling a greatest hits show, which the fans appear to be lapping up. But where are the new ideas, boys? I think Murray needs to call a band meeting, ASAP.

Bob Dylan and his Band: Live and in Person!

No doubt, Bob Dylan has heard it all: the chorus of boos that greeted his first public foray into electric rock music at the 1965 Newport folk festival, the infamous ‘Judas’ taunt in 1966, and the derisive jeers that mocked his notorious gospel concerts in the late 1970s and early 1980s are only the most obvious expressions of disappointment aimed at a man burdened with a ludicrous degree of adulation, admiration and expectation. When you carry such a load, you’re bound to piss people off from time to time. Perhaps more than any single figure in recent history, Dylan functions as a kind of canvass upon which his fans draw idealized images of what they consider him to be: a poet, a prophet, outlaw, fake, or even a star of electricity, as Todd Haynes put it in his extraordinary cinematic rendering of the Dylan myth.

Fans get mightily agitated when the man confounds their expectations, and heads in unforeseeable directions as an artist and man. After all, we have a lot invested in the Dylan’s music, and we want him to make us proud. Actually, we often just want him to confirm our own take on life, our own narrow political beliefs and prejudices. I remember my own sense of horror when Bob released Slow Train Coming in 1979. I’d recently discovered Dylan and Karl Marx, and become intoxicated by the heady dose of self-righteousness and indignation that both writers inspired in my adolescent mind. I desperately wanted to change the world that had gone so badly wrong by entrenching poverty and misery as a norm for so many.

I was outraged by Dylan’s turn to Christianity because I held religion responsible for many of the world’s ills. Shit, surely the guy who sung ‘With God On Our Side’ couldn’t be speaking in tongues and hastening the end of days, could he? Besides, how could the ‘voice of a generation,’ the rebel beatnik who wrote ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ and so many other great songs that rallied against injustice and inequality fall for such hokum as born-again Christianity? For me, as a right-on teenager, things were black and white. I knew which side I was on, and fuck anyone who took a different path.

Needless to say, I’ve mellowed with age, and I’m now willing to tolerate all kinds of dissent and dispute. Hell, I’ll even give Fox news a pass (from time to time — I’m not that tolerant of outright vapidity as an everyday occurrence). Anyway, Slow Train Coming is now one of my favourite Dylan albums. See how liberal I’ve become now that the scales of dogma have fallen from my eyes. And, in a way, I, too, have been born again. I’ve morphed into a respectable, middle-class professional (with a decent disposable income). This in itself is nothing extraordinary. However, it’s this current born-again persona that’s largely responsible for my current beef with the great man. Yes, folks, Dylan has pissed me off again, and the preceding paragraphs are nothing more than a preamble to explaining why I’m so incensed.

So here’s the deal, and I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s a big one. I paid $175 to see Dylan’s concert at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia on Thursday 21 April 2011, a date that will go down in infamy. That’s one hundred and seventy five dollars multiplied by two, by the way (I took my teenage son, who, incidentally has never had a problem with Slow Train Coming, since I trained him to be tolerant of all creeds by whacking him around the ear every time he said something bigoted).

Anyway, as a loyal customer of the Ticketek Corporation, I was granted the privilege of securing pre-sale tickets. I fired up my computer at the anointed hour, typed the prized pre-sale code into the appropriate box on the screen, and lucked out by getting fourth row seats, front and center. I usually get nosebleed seats at arena concerts, so I was stoked — and it’s an understatement to say I was eagerly anticipating the event. After all, I’d be in close proximity to a living legend. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve got to come clean, and admit that I’d seen Dylan on many other occasions, and even had good seats once (back in 2001 at the same venue when he delivered an absolutely stunning set that I’ve never forgotten, perhaps because most Dylan performances I’d witnessed were so mediocre). So, I wasn’t a Dylan virgin. I knew what to expect, or so I’d imagined.

I expected to see Australia’s own Dylan, Paul Kelly — he seems to get all the prestigious support slots, especially if someone literate like Dylan or Cohen is touring Australia. I’m not a big fan of Mr. Kelly, but I’ve seen enough of him at these arena gigs to appreciate his artistry. I expected Dylan, to play very little guitar, and turn his back to good proportion of the audience when he played his keyboard. I expected the coarse, sandpaper bark that passes for his voice these days. I expected the throng, of greying, middle-aged hippies with expanding waistlines to sing along with those songs that still retained their original melodies. I expected the band to keep their eyes peeled for any unexpected curve balls that Dylan might throw in mid-song. I expected loose arrangements, the occasional ramshackle ending, and, perhaps, a few moments of transcendental bliss when Dylan conjures the spirit of one of those ghosts from the Invisible Republic.

I also expected to buy a few pieces of tour merchandise at outrageously inflated prices, and maybe eat some of the junk food that’s always on offer at such events. I expected to see a few surreptitious scalpers and bootleggers, and I expected to moan about the poor sound quality that always seems to plague the Rod Laver Arena.

I didn’t expect to get into fight.

Ok, a heated exchange that almost ended in physical violence, then. I’m not really the fighting type (I’d have a hard time beating Woody Allen in his dotage), but, I can make like Larry David when provoked, and this unfortunate tendency has got me into more than a little trouble over the years. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to not call a crock a crock, and suck up patent abuses of power and prestige.

Things began as expected. Mr. Kelly, accompanied by his nephew, Dan, played an engaging set. I even snapped a couple of photographs. Man, I was so close. I couldn’t wait for the main event. Kelly departed the stage, fully deserving the warm applause of the audience. Then, there was a brief intermission while the stage was prepared for Dylan and band. I could feel the excitement building. How cool was this. I had amazing seats, and I was anticipating a stellar performance — I had a feeling that this one was going to be special. The lights slowly dimmed to black. The band took their positions, and then the crowd roared as the first strains of ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking’ — from Slow Train Coming, no less —washed over the auditorium. The crowd stood as one, row by row everyone stood to get a better glimpse of the man. I took my camera out of my pocket and started taking photographs. After a few minutes, I became aware of the people behind me yelling for me to sit down — they couldn’t see because the first three rows were still on their feet. I dutifully complied, out of politeness, and because I fully expected that everyone in front of me would also comply in the name of community spirit and fairness. After three or four songs it became obvious that the people who’d bought the best seats were going to remain on their feet for the duration, their backsides were not going to touch the plastic monstrosities that passed for chairs until the proverbial fat lady exhaled her last bellow, and Dylan left the stage.

I looked around me. The people immediately behind me kept yelling, the young man to my left, stood his ground, he’d obviously resolved to remain upright, and endure the slings and arrows of verbal abuse; the couple in front of me sang and danced without a shred of self-consciousness, irritating the crap out of me. I felt my blood pressure rising to dangerously high levels for a man of my vintage. I bit my tongue, hoping that those selfish fuckers would have the good grace to sit down after being on their feet for 30 minutes. No such luck. My inner Larry came to fore. I tapped the young man in front of me on the shoulder, and explained my predicament.

He looked slightly aghast, and dismissed my request by pointing out that he had to stand because those in front of him were also standing. Impeccable logic. How do you argue with that? I resumed my seat, fuming until my inner Larry could take no more. I made my request again, this time more insistently. Again, I was rebuked. Not content to sit it out passively, I stood for a third time, and shouted a full-throttled string of expletives at the young man just as Dylan finished ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. The crowd’s applause had died to an ambient hush, so my words rang out around the arena:

‘Sit down you selfish cunt, or I’ll fucking deck you!’

I swear I saw Dylan raise an eyebrow. I’m sure the great man heard me. What was he going to say?

‘You’re a liar, I don’t believe you?’

Obviously, I was no Keith Butler, and my boorish explosion of frustrated machismo was not going to constitute a turning point in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The moment seemed to last an eternity before the band kicked into the next song. I sat down, defeated, humiliated, and shocked at my outburst. My sense of disgrace was exacerbated when an usher came to see what all the fuss was about. She was an absolute darling — sympathetic to my plight, and even willing to reason and then admonish the offending couple that blocked my view of the spectacle. After making a futile appeal to my adversaries, she patiently explained that Dylan’s camp had issued specific instructions to allow people to remain on their feet, so there was nothing she could do, sorry. WTF? Dylan himself was responsible for this shitty situation. What a night, and what a disappointment. The venal couple made a hasty retreat at the end of proceedings, possibly believing that I’d make good on my idle threat. They needn’t have worried, I wasn’t going to do Jack.

So, Dylan pissed me off, again, but he’d also given me pause for thought, again. Wasn’t it the music that mattered? Why was I so hung up on having an unobstructed view of the icon? Why privilege sight at a musical event? Isn’t rock and roll supposed to move people to shuffle their feet to the beat, shake, rattle and roll?

But I’d paid to see Dylan, damn it! I wanted my money’s worth! I wanted to sit comfortably in my chair after a hard day’s slog, and passively luxuriate in the mystical aura of celebrity.

So, there you have it, folks — the root cause of my anger. I hadn’t got what I expected, but ain’t that just the way life rolls? It’s taken me more than a year to summon the courage to reflect on this incident and interrogate my own response to the event described above. I’m still pissed, but more at myself than Dylan, or the self-regarding hordes who occupied the first three rows on that contentious April night, and, I have no doubt, I’ll be there when Dylan comes to town next time. He seems to have a knack for making me think (twice).

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, April 5, 2012

I know Wanda Sykes as Larry David’s foil in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Wanda, an African America Lesbian, for those who don’t know, has the uncanny knack of popping up whenever Larry’s penchant for politically incorrect behaviour is racially charged. During the course of the show, now in its 9th season, she bears witness to the curmudgeonly Mr David mistaking a professional black man for a valet, suspects him of training a racist dog that attacks only black, and admonishes him for firing a black cable guy. These are just a few of the misdemeanours that Wanda takes issue with, and the sparks fly whenever Wanda and Larry are in the same frame. They have an on-screen chemistry that is pure comedy gold. Wanda’s straight-up, take no bullshit brand of ball busting is also evident in her stand-up persona, although she comes across as a much more genial and endearing presence on stage.

Wanda’s hour-long monologue was one of the hits at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival — she was so popular that she her performance had to be moved to a bigger venue to accommodate the demand for tickets (I saw her at the old Capitol Theatre — a former cinema with a sublime ceiling designed by Walter Burly Griffin). Her popularity is well deserved. Wanda’s wry observations about aging, American politics, and sex kept me chuckling for the duration of her performance, which was beautifully paced, and always engaging. She’s one funny woman.

She began with a few comments about Australia. Just when I thought she was going to launch into a shit eating, ingratiating speech about how she loves this country, she shifted gears to comment on the bad attitude of Australian waiters — “y’all kinda nice in a phoney kinda way,” she says recalling how her request for a mimosa (an orange and champagne cocktail) was met with a response that managed to simultaneously convey compliance and contempt. Yep, that’s Aussie bad attitude for you, which is not to say there aren’t any bad attitude waiters in the States; it’s just that they are not as prevalent as they are in the land of OZ. Speaking of alcohol, Wanda raved about Australian wine, and noted that we drink a shitload of the stuff. She can tell because we don’t let that stuff sit on the shelf for too long – ‘just look at the dates on the bottle,’ she observes.

Once she got past these obligatory local references, she really hit her stride, especially when she turns her caustic wit to American politics. Needless to say, she’s an Obama fan, and takes exception to those who literally denigrate the president’s good name for being un-American. Just look at the names of Republican presidential candidates she suggests: Ron Paul (he has two first names) Newt Gingrich (sounds like some kinda toad) and Mitt Romney (who sounds like a cocktail Don Draper might drink). The trouble with these guys she opines is that nobody wants to fuck them. Speaking of fucking, she tells a few hilarious tales about her sex life. Sex, for someone of Wanda’s vintage, is no simple matter. Gone are the days of being able to bonk spontaneously — for folks in their late 40’s, sex requires significant preparation: Wanda has a bagful of pills and potions that help her get it on. She also has a pre-sex workout routine that helps keeps the cramps at bay. Wanda, you see, is married to a younger woman — that’s a younger French woman with whom she’s had two white children, mind you. Ooh, la, la! Her tales of family life, and the trials of living in a mixed-race household sound like Curb Your Enthusiasm scenarios — the anecdote about her son calling her Mammy was very Larry David.

There’s nothing especially polished about Wanda’s Shtick: she causally wanders from topic to topic without trying too hard to find clever segues between different stories. But what her show lacks in structure is made up by her cool, relaxed, manner and effortless charm. She can bust my balls any day!

Dave Gorman’s PowerPoint Presentation

Melbourne Comedy Festival – April 11, 2012

Dave Gorman tries hard. In fact, he tries very hard. No, Dave Gorman actually tries too damn hard. Prowling the stage while spewing a scatter-gun monologue about inane aspects of contemporary culture, he tries his best to connect with an audience that numbers, by his own estimation, approximately 500. The majority of the assembled throng appears mildly engaged by Dave’s Shtick, but I sense that he’s somehow missed the mark, and his struggle to win them over occasionally becomes visible through hairline cracks that threaten to mar his well-rehearsed routine — a teeth-clenching smile here, an involuntary grimace there.

Dave’s PowerPoint Presentation comprises of a series of vaguely amusing anecdotes about misinformation and misunderstandings in the age of the Internet. He does a good line in self-deprecating humour, and does his best to present himself as an affable, all-round nice guy. The PowerPoint conceit, however, is thin, and only occasionally enhances his material. Early in the proceedings he points out that he’s ‘punching above his weight’ in his love life — Dave, you see, is a fairly ordinary looking chap, but he’s managed to convince a fairly attractive women to marry him. He charts this physiognomic disparity on a graph, which parodies the style of corporate presentations. He uses PowerPoint as an old-fashioned slide projector with the capacity for creating animations and transitions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but his observations about mobile phone advertising, and his routine about being regularly mistaken for Jewish are a little too twee to add up to anything approaching more than mild diversion.

But, boy, does Dave Gorman work hard. He pulls out all stops to make sure the audience’s attention doesn’t wander. He makes sustained eye contact with the audience, and even tells someone to stop taking photographs. Another hapless spectator is admonished for looking at his mobile phone (‘how rude,’ observes Dave). His act sounds as though it’s been committed to memory. Dave doesn’t miss a beat. The patter flows without pause, or discernible blunders. This is a very theatrical performance — it’s tightly rehearsed, and delivered with impeccable modulation. Maybe Dave Gorman is just a very, very articulate chap. Unfortunately, he comes over as a slightly pompous, disingenuous, middle-of-the road comic whose observational humour can’t evoke deep belly laughs. The best comedians, in my view, either have buckets load of attitude coupled with funny but profound insights into life’s absurdities, or they just look so dorky that you can’t help laughing out loud (take a bow Jim Parsons). Dave just doesn’t do it for me, and I’ve seen more compelling and entertaining PowerPoint presentations in my time.

So, this is shit I don’t like.

 

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