Go Sing it on a Mountain

Local band The Cashews have previously shown an ability to adopt and adapt clever and unusual methods of presenting their music, being one of the only bands in Canberra to try the ‘backyard’ gig and jumping on the Insatiable Banalities bandwagon before we’d even got the wheels properly attached.

So when I heard they were doing a ‘Guerilla Gig’ at an undisclosed locale in Canberra I was intrigued and kept my ears peeled for the announcement, given just an hour before the gig started, of the location. Cleverly (on the Cashews part again) my peeled ears only had to await the dulcet message tones on my mobile phone which advised the gig was on top of Mount Ainslie, about a kilometre up the hill from my place.

Arriving on the sparsely populated mountain top at a few minutes past the appointed hour, we searched in vain for a while before coming upon this pleasant scene.

The gig, set to proceed from 8-8.45 PM, was cleverly timed to coincide with a glorious sunset that, along with the panoramic view of Canberra’s sculpted and tree strewn inner suburbs and the Parliamentary Triangle, made any further pretence at staging superfluous.

Alison and Pete were joined by occasional contributor John Jones on various percussion items and they commenced their set shortly after I arrived, despite the punctual members of the audience being numbered in single digits. A steady dribble of punters ensued, however, and by the second song there were enough people there to relieve the awkwardness a performer often feels playing to next to no-one.

Alison and Pete play guitars and sing, but they seldom both play guitars at once, Alison having mastered at least three notes on a bewildering array of Fisher Price products and Pete producing the odd tasty tidbit on trumpet. These constant variations create more interest than the simplicity of their implementation would infer.

Ingenuous is a word I always have to look up and check I’m not using in the wrong context so, having ascertained once again that it means ‘lacking in cunning and guile’ and ‘straightforward and candid’, I’m happy to say that self-aware ingenuousness is one of the defining characteristics of a Cashews show, wherever it be staged.

Self-aware and ingenuousness may seem a bit contradictory so I’ll try to explain. Superficially there is no magic or trickery involved, just some simple chords, tinkling melodies, appropriate harmonies, literate lyrics (with many local references), a bit of corny humour and the aforementioned forays on a xylophone, squeeze box, trumpet etc. But they make mistakes and laugh at themselves. And they seem to really enjoy what they’re doing, and in their enjoyment almost insist that the audience does too.

Click the image above for a short video of the show (mpeg, 8.7 meg)

They are indeed the antithesis of one major stereotype in contemporary music, the self-important rock genius/sex god/heroin chic artiste. As such the impression they create could verge on softness, fluffiness, cuteness and insubstantiality. Or it could lead one to suspect that they are genuinely generous and unaffected musicians sharing a simple joy with like-minded souls.

My first impression, on listening to a song on CD, was that the Cashews were nice, not in a good way, and tending towards boring. When they played for the podcast the effect was substantially different. I had chills, lots of them, and it was sort of bewildering because I had little expected it and couldn’t explain it, still can’t really. Ever since they have always charmed me in performance, even if, as I’ve tried to explain, their ingenuousness may sometimes seem contrived and their refusal to present a ‘cool’ image may, like a non-conformist conforming to an alternative scene, represent a semi-conscious attempt to, in fact, be cool.

In music as in life we are always searching for the genuine article. Chills up the spine are, for me, the best indicator that I’ve found one, so I’m going to go with that. After the show, which ended in nearly full darkness, Alison and I discussed the future of Guerilla Gigs and other possible locations. She seemed pretty positive about doing further shows, possibly with support acts, so keep your ears peeled.

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