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CONCERT REVIEW: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne [07/12/2003] by Karen Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

This really won't do. Are you listening, you beautiful tormenting bastard! I came seeking the presence of God and I am still no closer to touching you.

Yes, you were there, and I was there, breathing the same balmy summer air. The Melbourne sky darkened in front of you as it receded at my hind. I probably inhaled particles of your cigarette smoke, seeing as nobody else was meant to be smoking. I was sitting, then standing, only twenty metres away from the stage. My husband had plugs, but there is no one whose voice I would rather have ringing an indelible track in my ears.

But how can I reach epiphany if you're going to get ten thousand other people in your awesome thrall? Ten thousand other people of all shapes and sizes, straddling the ages and sexes, although mostly, it has to be said, pretty white and middle-class. Pretty typical citizens of the sadly inverted and trivialized world of celebrity culture , to quote John F. Schumaker in the December 2003 New Internationalist (p. 35). Some came with their picnic hampers, some with their vidi-phones and digi-corders, some evidently came just to drink expensive schooners of beer. There were those with old Tshirts I would (consider) giving my sons to own. O to be ten years older and ravaged with sin!

Or ten years younger and beautifully thin. Part of me is profoundly jealous of those pretty young things who raced to hold your hand although I wouldn't want to be the one you swore at when she made you stumble over a line. I'm righteously peeved at the people who got better seats than mine.

I don't want to be culturally sutured into a position of obeisance. I'm no cock sucker. But how can I help it when you make Neko and Calexico sound like musak and your ancient friend a flat-toned try-hard in regrettable tights? There is no one, no writer, no singer, in this age of rampant possibility, who remotely compares. You inhabit centuries of romantic poetry and revolution, invoking Jesus with an upward glance, dissing conviction with a minstrel's flair.

And so I'm pissed off with you. For not being there for me alone, for not even looking in my goddamn direction. For cutting your hair. For having so fucking many good songs that you don't even need to fill Blixa's shoes. And for knowing so thoroughly well what it is that you do. You leave me deliberately short of satisfied.

I liked your new arrangements, don't get me wrong. I liked your wild arm pumping at the piano in "Wonderful Life" and the thunderous energy you summoned, gradually provoking the young ones to "Mercy Seat" explosion down the aisles. "Watching Alice" and "Christina the Astonishing" had always seemed like maudlin filler to me. On Sunday they became cathedrals of melancholia, pierced with shafts of stained glass light. Most of all I loved the way you segued "The Folk Singer" into all that predictable hassle for "song after song after song". It was a searing elegy. But can you really feel that desolate and provisional up there in front of ten thousand screaming fans? Or are such moments of expressed frailty merely a ploy to capture those with book-piled lives measured out in coffee spoons and desperately polished lies? Having stabbed me with recognition, did you have to turn the knife?

I had waited a long time for this and it went too quickly and gave me nothing new. Sure you were working hard and cleverly through your back catalogue. Sure there was a little nervous tension in the air. Security couldn't quite control the effect of "Stagger Lee". Do you know what you look like in your crew cut and expensive suit singing this black man's paean with an erotic leer? You move through two spaces simultaneously. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that avatars of your invention dance in many dimensions as your present suited crew-cutted self conjures and dispels. You are a conductor of those other men, just as you seemed at times to be the Karajan or Klemperer of your sounds. And the Bad Seeds are magicians. These are dangerous forces the seven of you let loose. When other times and places swirl through your words we worshippers are not dulled captives of a "caged imagination", as Schumaker implies. The longer we live, and the more we listen, the more we see through you and the more of everything we want to feel.

Which is why it's so unfair to have you take leave and go home. Without even taking off your jacket. Or singing us a new song. Goodnight is not word enough for the severing of possibilities, the slamming of neural pathways, the dunking of poetic connections like lumpen biscuit in a mug of reality. Come back! I know that my relationship with you is all the better for you not knowing about it. I know that it is up to me to write the things I want you to write. It just hurts.


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