Neo with Andrea Kirwin – The Polish Club 5th July 2013
I arrived early for this gig review(!) and by early I don't mean early for me (though it was that too) I mean early full stop. I think there may have been six other people in the hall when I entered. I thought the gig started at eight … oh well, plenty of time to get a beer in the bar next door. The stage was set and the music playing pre-gig was superb … I enquired and found it was by a Brisbane outfit called Kooii … I made a mental note to check them out.
Neo took the stage first and in what I thought was a nice piece of gig-craft played their first set. By creating a Neo sandwich they effectively supported themselves. With a gentle warm up they launched into some sultry bluesy reggae. Sliding in like warmed honey, a harmonica made a welcome appearance over a pendulously pumping groove. The next track saw a low-slung groove accompanied by tasteful slow wah guitar and a dash of calypso flute before an effortless transition to SKA beat with bass recalling pointing fingers.
You know what I wasn't thinking just the other day? That synchronised whistling is really unrepresented on today's stage and, after hearing some tuneful whistling harmonies by Neo on Friday, I've come to think that was rather remiss of me. The room's slowly filling and the addition of horns (did I hear someone mention they were Party Gravy horns? … they certainly looked and sounded familiar) filled out the sound nicely with accent and stab. I did find myself contemplating the baritone sax player as he appeared barely taller than his instrument. Had I been blindfolded this wouldn't have mattered at all. Hitting the blues again and I'm in the bayou thanks to a silty brown bass solo underpinned by a blue beat with real ‘tock’.
Quite suddenly I find myself transported. It's early evening and I'm sitting in a little bar by a tropical ocean, sunkiss'd and salty tanged. There's cold beer, fresh-caught fish and I imagine the warm and gentle sea breeze is Neo playing in a corner. It's not at all an unpleasant little trip. I'm reminded that I like that kind of thing.
There's a set break to bring me back from the sea and I wander next door to score a beer. I find that my well-meaning attempts at an acceptable pronunciation of Zywiec are falling miserably short. At least I didn't need to resort to pointing this time. The bar’s not crowded. There’s a party going on in the function room and a young man standing at the urinal, head pressed against the wall, his eyes closed, not doing very much. I think he was alive … he wasn’t there when I went back later.
I wander back in, beer in hand and grab a seat up on the stage overlooking the room. It's commanding up here and it's then I notice the diminutive yet striking scarlet figure on stage. The stage looms large around her yet somehow she holds to herself. She's dressed in a tailored scarlet coat over gold and in black boots. It’s a great look … a loose fro with a lock of white that falls as a swept fringe over clear dark eyes. I'm suddenly glad I brought my camera tonight. I look up rom scribbling my notes to see she's lost her coat and is now all spangly … I'm a fan of spangle from way back. Andrea Kirwin is on stage. This solo introduction to her set is a mellow jazz-inspired groove and mild scat. It is eminently listenable. I move down onto the floor.
Andrea's band takes the stage. The mark of an excellent backing band is that they serve to complement and enhance the stage created by the lead. Andrea's band does this beautifully, creating spaces and moods that a single acoustic guitar simply cannot. Distinct yet togetherly coherent in enviable understatement, they make a lovely, lovely sound together. The openers with the band are gentle and coaxing affairs and by the time 'Mary Go-Round' appears the band is well into their stride. With a street-smart sass and city strut … the track is a winner and, along with 'Shadow Man' that followed it demonstrated the understanding the musicians had with one another while allowing their virtuosity to shine. In short, they were everything a backing band should be and more.
The band were joined on stage by a baritone sax (Nick, a little taller than the earlier player) and trombone (Sophie). I do like the deep throat of a live bari and wish there was more of it about … along with the bone they together introduced some stabby goodness to the mix and helped pave the way for the promised funk of Neo's second set. There's a glorious moment in the jam of ‘Yellow Brick Road' when Andrea puts down her guitar and grooves along with the band while the horns whip it up. You forget the power and presence of live horns until faced with them again. Loved that saxy sound.
Too soon it’s all over and Andrea and band depart the stage and I relocate to the bar to fumble with the names of Polish beers … I have this theory that drinking them helps with that kind of thing…
Neo’s second set … the promised Orange Party of Pioneering Funk Research was a little disappointing for this reviewer. There were a few slinky dancers and the two women dancing directly in front of me were very distracting. The bass took to the floor and grooved along with the crowd … dancing bass players do tend to need a fair bit of room and maybe this was why the crowd never really reached the front of the stage. Compared to the whooping frenzy of Zoopagoo & Party Gravy a couple of weeks ago … things seemed a little flat. There was a distinct move toward sweaty Australian Pub Rock. Now I loves me a good dose of crunchy Oz Pub Rock but I was expecting funk and as I pondered my flat state I realised I had been spoiled by Andrea Kirwin’s set. If it had ended after that it would have been perfect. I did like the Neo guitarist’s floral pants and made a point of complimenting him on them.
Tonight: Andrea Kirwin – with guests the Neo … is how I saw it.
Sound and lighting were solid and nicely balanced thanks to Dave Howe on the desk. Thanks to Nigel and the CMC for the opportunity to pen this for you.
You can visit Andrea Kirwin at www.andreakirwin.com
Also published in Culturazi 10 July 2013