The Guero Tour…
March 1, 2018

Last time I saw Beck, it was with a very folksy backing band. It was a good show, but I was still reeling from Midnite Vultures, and have always been disappointed that I didn’t get to see Beck in weird-pop mode.

Beck, with Meg Mac,
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, February 28, 2018…

That strange arrangement that Margaret Court Arena seems to have whereby artists start performing mere moments after the time listed on the tickets for gates to open has come to pass once more this evening. It has meant that Meg Mac and her band performed for a much smaller audience than they might have if they had started once those arriving had had a chance to pass rigorous security measures, buy a drink, and settle in. It was a shame, because those dedicated few at the front of the stage and cheering from the stands enjoyed an excellent performance.

MegMacMeg and the band led them in a clap-along for Grandma’s Hands, a song which showed off not only Meg, but her sister’s skills on backing vocals.  Radio hits like Low Blows and Grace Gold were great to hear live, and the Like A Version cover of Tame Impala’s Let It Happen was the favourite of the audience. It was a good set that made a lot of people vow to catch a Meg Mac headline show, especially for those moments when her guitarists all trade their instruments for even more keyboards.

Luckily, by the time the lights dimmed, the floor had filled up a little more, although there were still large chunks of empty seats in the stands, and sections closed down into ‘intimate mode.’ But the stage was full – crowded with a variety of instruments including an elaborate drum kit, keyboards, and an upright piano, along with seven other band members, all of which Beck himself bounded confidently through, to launch right into Devil’s Haircut. With all hands on deck to recreate the different layers of sound in the song, the band didn’t get much of a break. This was not the Sea Change tour folk show. This was a show for moving.

BeckWith a backdrop of WinAmp Visualisations, Beck and his band tore through a high-energy set with a strong representation of songs from the current Colors album and also from Guero. The Guero songs in particular sounded incredible live. Also surprisingly very effective live were some of Beck’s frequent dalliances into hip-hop territory. Qué Onda Guero and especially new song Wow were unexpected set highlights that let both the audience and Beck himself exhibit their sly dance moves.

On the other hand, an acoustic solo section mid set might have been intended to provide a break, but felt somewhat at odds with the theme of the rest of the show. A couple of covers, followed by a silly local version of Debra did, at least, pave the way for the lone Sea Change offering, Lost Cause, which gradually brought us back to the pace of the rest of the show, to finish the main set on a high with E-Pro.

After a costume change, Beck brought his band back out to finish with with a well received Loser and an extended version of Where It’s At, interspersed with a chance for each one of the touring musicians to be properly introduced and to play a solo. In the end, it was an incredible weird-pop show. But I have still not heard Sexx Laws played live.

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What we saw from the cheap seats…
August 2, 2015

There was a photo that one of the music majors took for their cover story on Mark Ronson.  I guess it was after the hype and play of the Version days, around when Record Collection was due for release.  In it, Mark was putting on a scowl, but it was obvious that he was trying to hide the laughter lurking behind it.  He was holding a trumpet which he’d broken, presumably across his knee, with the headline printed along with his name a quote on how he doesn’t want to work with trumpets again.  It is ironic, because during this tour, Ronson was at his best when flanked by his horn section.

Mark Ronson,
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, July 29, 2015…

This was my first visit to Margaret Court Arena (as I hadn’t been able to attend the Wombat’s Splendour Sideshow the previous night due to an engagement next door) and it is certainly a venue with pros and cons.  As a smaller concert venue than its older brother Rod Laver, it brings a surprising warmth and illusion of intimacy to the arena setting.  Upon arrival, staff recommended that patrons use the facilities outside the arena in the Melbourne Park precinct to avoid prophesied queues inside, with vague signage seeing me exit the restrooms onto a tennis court.  Sadly, we are not in the midst of the Australian Open, so hilarity did not ensue this time.  Inside the arena, I was greeted immediately by a long queue that did indeed snake its way around the outskirts of the venue that surely, I thought, could not be for the bathrooms?  I followed the queue in the direction of my door to find it ended in what appeared to be the only bar for the evening.  Hopefully this was the result of venue management misjudging the audience’s thirst on this occasion and choosing to open only one bar, and that there are actually other dedicated beverage facilities hidden away somewhere, otherwise this would constitute an unforgivable design flaw.

On the other hand, the hungry were well-catered to, with an assortment of food options to rival even those of the Araneta Coliseum. Event staff paced the expansive bar queue, deceptively recommending patrons order drinks from one of the dining venues. (Deceptive, as many did not serve liquor, and those which did seemed to only stock the house beer.)  Once I’d foolishly conquered the bar queue, I found my way to what could be Melbourne’s best wheelchair concert viewing area.

Pond played as main support, and played it well, producing catchy electro-rock sounds not dissimilar to those of Midnight Juggernauts.  It was an exciting set, which enforced the intimate feeling of the arena, and put the group on my list of bands to see again.

During the intermission after Pond, and elaborate band-stand style prop was revealed on a stage distressingly otherwise bare of instrumentation, and the staff at the main bar advised patrons that the beer had sold out.  The show opened in strange and underwhelming fashion.  The house lights were dimmed, but instead of any action on stage, the PA was turned up to play a Tamsin West’s closing theme to Round The Twist to a darkened venue.  After a moment of awkward silence the fake band-stand lit up with bright white, while a pair of rappers I couldn’t identify bounded onto stage to rap over a video of Mystikal singing Feel Right.  The emergence of Mark Ronson himself, atop the centre pillar of the illuminated band-stand, was peculiarly overshadowed by the bold karaoke lyrics projected behind the animated dancing of Mystikal on screen.

MarkRonsonIt was when feature singers started emerging to the stage that the show really kicked off, with The Bamboos’ Ella Thompson impressing on vocal duties for Bang Bang Bang, the early sing-along remaining the night’s highlight, though closely followed by The View’s Kyle Falconer shyly reprising his Bike Song vocals.  Business Intl songs stole the show from the current album selection.  The show came to life when Mark took to the stage from behind the props to take up his guitar, and Mark himself looked to be particularly enjoying jamming with Kirin J. Callinan.  It was a shame – though not a surprise, and understandable – to have Valerie played with an empty stage and Amy Winehouse’s piped vocals instead of utilising one of the many guest singers (Daniel Merriweather was, after all, featured only briefly and might have changed up another of the Version covers.)

These DJ shows are always a tricky thing to enliven, but Mark Ronson ended up doing well after a shaky start, though shouldn’t be afraid to feature more live instrumentation, because those moments were when this trip to Melbourne really shone.  After pronouncing his excitement at playing his first arena show tonight, it would seem he can pull it off, though I’ve no doubt he won’t have any problem returning to clubs either.