PJ Who?

Intrepid culture vulture that I am, I followed the whiff of a cultural event from it’s first tantalising puff through the Myspace experience to find myself yesterday seated front row in the lobby of the Street Theatre for the launch of ‘Storms, Dreams and Flying Machines’, a CD produced by a recent arrival in Canberra, PJ Wolf.

Besides the fact that he’s quite an attractive young man, initial impressions of Mr Wolf were not the most positive. For a start, his publicity had stated the CD launch would go from 5.30-7pm. After half an hour of watching PJ and his lanky friend hand-drawing signs for the CD shop, I enquired when the show would be starting. Oh, he thought everyone would get that if he said 5.30, it’d start at 6pm. OK, it’s 6.05pm now, I replied, but here, with more time, I also advise him that, in future, he should book a support act to entertain those poor fools who do turn up on time, Canberra being populated with many anal public service types who are likely to do just that.

He did get up on the stage shortly afterwards, but then commenced to do a sound check, something that could have been done before anyone turned up. The sound check was done by a person who might have been PJ’s father which really had me wondering if I’d turned up to amateur hour, but thankfully Dad seemed to know what he was doing.

There was, after all, just a guitar and a vocal mic to fiddle with so, at about 6.10pm, PJ commenced his show with the observation that the speakers weren’t very well placed, obscuring his view of much of the audience and, consequently, leaving many in the audience with a view of a speaker with legs.

That’s where the negative impressions end because there was nothing to complain about thereafter. Quite the contrary. PJ Wolf is disarmingly natural, intelligent and intelligible, and gently, self-deprecatingly funny on stage and he bravely confronted a smallish audience of largely unknowns with a bunch of songs and a few anecdotes that would have made a delectable appetiser for the CD’s main course.

PJ has a remarkable voice and his songs put it through its paces admirably. Thankfully, though his vocal range verges on the extraordinary, he limited the gymnastics to occasional flourishes, an elegant sufficiency that provided delicious contrasts without beating one about the head.

His guitar playing is subtle and refined, with chords often nuanced in a jazz-like style, his left hand traversing the fret board like a languidly dancing crab.

His songs are gentle meandering things which at times had me thinking of Jeff Buckley, at others Josh Pike. Influences he acknowledges on his Myspace account are as follows:

Satie, Radiohead, the beatles, chris whitley, talking heads, debussy, alchohol, weet-bix, elliott smith, vince jones, loose fitting underwear [hehe – Ed], paul kelly, bob dylan, stevie wonder, the whitlams, neil finn, bruce cockburn, violent video games, miles davis, david bowie, the weather, his wife… etc etc.

The set, of some forty minutes length and, one suspects, comprising much of the breadth and depth of Mr Wolf’s repertoire, had a strange, dreamlike feel to it. Each song set me off on a completely unrelated stream of internal ramblings of the sub-consciousness. It was music as a means of self-reflection. This was especially effective when I sat with Wolf’s head hidden from view. Disembodied, his voice floated around the room, an ethereal and soothing presence.

I didn’t actually buy the CD, assuming, hopefully, that we’ll get one for free when PJ comes in for a podcast, but the recordings on the web do the songs justice, despite apparently being recorded at home. Judiciously augmented with other instrumentation and self-harmonies, the songs are richer for it but still recognisable as those heard yesterday.

To sum up, for those who enjoy sitting and listening quietly to music that is less an assault to the senses than an assist to meditative cogitations, one could do little better than spend an hour or so with PJ Wolf. But don’t turn up on time.

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