The endearing and dishevelled surroundings of MacGregor Hall provided the perfect venue for a wonderfully coherent mix of country, blues, and surf and western music on a rainy March night.
The Wedded Bliss were first up with a short and lovely warm-up set that showed, once again, why they are one of Canberra’s finest outfits. Their effortless charm is a real joy and for this brief show they performed as a drummer-less trio – a combination that made it easy for them to eventually vacate the confines of the small, but unreliable, stage.
When Randall Blair announced that the stage had holes in it they simply moved to the vacant dance floor and finished their set there. In a small hall with a timber floor and lots of bare surfaces this was no problem, and we could all hear them without any trouble. All too soon, it seemed, they were done.
During the short break several wet motorcyclists arrived, and once inside took the opportunity to use a couple of the exposed rafters as hanging space for their saturated wet weather gear. This, along with the guy who arrived with his two dogs (on leashes), made for an odd, and wonderfully informal atmosphere.
The pace picked up considerably with Space Party, who played a really entertaining set of high energy surf instrumentals, with occasional vocals. Their tight, well-rehearsed homage to the sound of the sixties was a lot of fun. It was the first time I’ve seen them, and I’ll be back for more.
Headline act, Mikelangelo & the Tin Star, gave the slightly disappointing crowd of about 100 people the bonus of an onstage pre-show sound-check, complete with very witty running commentary. This tasty appetiser soon led into the show itself, but not before Mikelangelo convinced everyone in the hall to move their chairs as close as possible to the stage. Leaving a small, but useable, space for dancers, of course.
We were immediately transported to a land of surf-westerns, and the effect was spellbinding. Their collection of original songs and instrumentals was much more than smart pastiche. It was delivered with style, humour and conviction – and it showed.
Ditto tenfold for the shabby chic of MacGregor Hall – the laminex tables and vinyl padded chairs look like they belong there because they do, not because they were bought at inflated prices from a retro emporium. But I digress.
Second song was Balkan Beach Party – and when Mikelangelo introduced us to the genre of Satin Music (satanic latin) things got stranger, and more entertaining.
After about half a dozen songs Saint Claire arrived in the guise of a fetchingly cute cowgirl. Highlight of her all too brief cameo was a great version of the Nancy Sinatra classic Lightning’s Girl.
Mikelangelo neatly, and convincingly, combined his larger than life stage presence with very amusing and self-effacing tales. His plea for Canberra crowds and musicians to support each other was clearly genuine – even coming from an expatriate. At one point he wryly observed that he remembered playing at MacGregor Hall in 1993, and that it was up to us to decide if returning in 2010 was a sign of progress.
The second half of the set featured a collection of excellent original songs – the bizarre instrumental Paradise Island was a highlight. The captivating Saint Claire returned, sleeveless, slinky, sequinned and sultry – an affectionate nod to Ann Margaret.
Final song was the high energy Action Is My Middle Name, complete with Mikelangelo dashing through the crowd, and engaging in mock wrestling with several unsuspecting punters. But there was more – a hastily prepared version of Marinade that truly did the job. Fittingly, the evening closed with a slightly downbeat, and suitably melodramatic, version of Elvis Presley’s Flaming Star.
I left wanting more – if only to hear their version of Tex Ritter’s Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’, the haunting theme from the classic western movie High Noon, based on the short story The Tin Star. Next time, perhaps.