NZ International Comedy Festival Reviews – May 2014

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All reviews published on www.grooveguide.co.nz

REVIEW: Urzila Carlson ‘Poise Control’ @ San Francisco Bath House Wellington, Tues 6th May 2014

Carlson tells the room that she thought up the title for her show before she realised that Poise was a feminine hygiene product. It was the opening gambit for many reflections on the indelicate intricacies of the female psyche. The show’s initials ‘PC’ gives her plenty of licence to compare people to IT. “Some people are Apples and some are sh**y Dells. My Kid, I think, will be half way in between – I hope,” she’s exclaiming. She goes on to mix descriptions and anecdotes of her “lesbi-tarian” marriage with the birth of her daughter and observations on how people really are like little computers. Babies are brand new with only the factory settings. Teenagers are in transition, mothers are firewalls and old people with broken drives, expired apps and forgotten passwords.

Carlson’s delivery is well paced and consistent. She owns the stage without stamping the ‘for sale’ stickers everywhere. It’s an enjoyable night and offers a few good insights into the mind of the enemy. Now I know NOT to get in the car when my wife is upset with me – the argument will last all the way to the BBQ, seethe through the evening and fully rage again on the ride home! I’ll be trapped in a cage, at the mercy of irrational woman’s logic and rage. What’s that about? It’s about an hour of fantastic fun. And finally I learned why we’re all pent up due to a national political correctness overdose. It’s because of bad coffee. Of course, Carlson knows where to find the best Baristas.

Thank God-ess!

REVIEW: Eamon Marra – Man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Puppies Wellington, Monday 5th May 2014

I really wanted Eamon Marra to h.ve a good night but alas he was under rehearsed and underwhelming. His show, a Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was an attempt to conjure up the spirit of Woody Allen, a tall order indeed.  Unfortunately it never came even close to breathing the man’s name.  It’s a difficult thing to come across as a convincing dysfunctional, even if you genuinely are.   It takes practice and dedication.  I didn’t see it.

The Monday night Puppies crowd were probably all friends and consequently they were very kind, and just as well. Marra started by bribing his audience with chippies and lollies to get him to like him.  He gave them a list of compliments to read out and he had flip charts and a guitar intentionally out-of-tuned.  His show was loosely structured around mental illness, not an original plot.  He referred to stage fright, which was probably real, and social dysfunction in the age of Twitter and the (Da Vinci Code) Illuminati.  His jokes were there but unfortunately if you ignored the delivery and retold them to yourself later.  Marra referred to his notes a lot, lost his place, and awkwardly bumbled about between the signposts of his script.  He was lucky there were no hecklers in the room – that would of completely thrown him.  He managed to do that all by himself.  I hope tomorrow night goes well because underneath Eamon Marra seems like a funny man – I just didn’t really see that tonight.  Sorry.

REVIEW: The Big Show featuring John Gordillo, John Robins, Tim FitzHigham Sara Pascoe and hosted by Michael Legge, Hannah Playhouse – Wellington Comedy Festival Tuesday 20 April 

In comparison to Ego’s luke-warm effort earlier, Legge has a huger presence on the same stage.  Being Irish helps.  He’s a natural for a bit of the crack, warming the audience up with a tried and true method of picking on guys in the front row – this time Brendan and Noel are the victims de jour.  Legge has written for most of the UK TV channels and is a long term collaborator with stage-mate John Gordillo, who have both made beautiful Theatresports moments together over the years.  He’s even been nominated for a BAFTA for writing an episode of The Osbornes.  He was clearly comfortable on the boards working a quiet, polite and slightly nervous group of Wellingtonians into an outgoing bunch of yobs by the end of the night. Gordillo was first out opening what he called “various opinions from every type of white middle class person.”  His particular opinion was very proper analysis of the difference between theatre-spin and stand-up comedy.  His self-deprecating BBC delivery mostly hit the mark.  One highlight in particular was his impersonation of an award winning Russian novelist and Jennifer Anniston presenting at a fantasy Oscar-pimped up Nobel Peace prize ceremony. Following on was Sara Pascoe.  She had a nervous, twitchy style.  Also a resident of Lewisham her material was more down to earth, in a gritty modern feminist sort of way.  Sadly, John Robins, who opened the second half didn’t entirely fire. Jokes about paedophilia and homophobia are a little passé these days, despite a well-practiced execution.  Adding medical misadventures like contracting gout did not help either.  Tim FitzHigham, who was billed as a potential guest for the night was the last appearance of the night.  Still panting from his run across town after closing his own show he was pumped.  His material was a sliver from a night about bizarre gambling wagers and claiming ‘freckless’ as an occupation on his US immigrations form.  It was a great high to the end of the night, with his energy positively radiating off the stage.

REVIEW: Paul Ego – Amazing Balls – Hannah Playhouse – Wellington Comedy Festival Tuesday 20 April

What’s the most awkward disposition a comedy reviewer should put themselves in before attending a season opening?  How about recovering from stomach surgery?  Yep. That was yours truly. So naturally I was a little apprehensive I’d be risking stitches and newly repaired innards when I sat down to ingest 7 Days star Paul Ego’s new show Amazing Balls.  Alas, there was nothing really upset my surgeon.  Ego somehow lacked the quick fire naughty-boy, shock jock presence he has on TV.  Instead his well-meaning slideshow effort was a chatty, anecdotal based ramble about searching for a new career in the light of audience dejection from his 7 year old. Ego’s 47 year old parental ponderings were based on a failed attempt to tell a decent joke to his son.  That, in itself would have been a perfect narrative for the night.  However his self-confessed ‘messy’ delivery seemed to have conspired against him as he faltered initially to get into top gear by front loading with a pile of hot-aerated irrelevances.  Even the show’s title didn’t quite gel with the general themes.  With only an hour it’s essential to get those belly laughs in early. Sadly there were no sides split tonight.

Kimbra at WOMAD 2014

Reprinted from Groove Guide 30 April 2014Image

The drive from Wellington to New Plymouth took considerably longer than expected. By Hawera I was getting really concerned we weren’t going to make our 2.30 appointment.  Beside me, my daughter McKenzie, my ‘cub reporter’, was frantically texting the WOMAD publicist to buy more time.  Despite ticking clock and the speedo needle rising rapidly into the illegal section, Mckenzie sat calmly reading out stats and facts about our interviewee.  A little over two years ago, she reminded me, just like Lorde, most of us hadn’t heard of Kimbra Lee Johnson.  Yet when she was nominated, along with singer-collaborator Gotye for a Grammy for the song “Someone I used to know’, we all sat up and took notice.  What is it about Kiwi female singers that captures the world’s imagination?  Perhaps it has something to do with that DIY mentality that we all grew up with.  After all Kimbra wrote and recorded her debut Vows in her Melbourne flat and a minuscule studio in North Richmond.  “It was the product of many, many ideas, all fragments and tiny little snatches of songs,” she told us later in the tranquil garden setting of New Plymouth’s Nice Hotel.  With second’s to spare, we’d thrown the car into the nearest park and sprinted up the hill to the venue.  Whilst we were a little flustered, Kimbra, on the other hand, was relaxed and composed.  Dressed in a green refashioned vintage dress, hair and makeup conservative but still glamorous she was completely different from from outrageous stage persona. “I feel it’s important to sell my music up there, it creates the illusion and fantasy which is important.  It’s part of the whole package.  Wait to you see my show tonight!” she promised, “that will surprise you!”  And it did! Performing for the first time at WOMAD, Kimbra arrived in royal style dressed in a shimmering white synth-fibre cloak, high heel fluffy slippers and a multi coloured tutu.  “We’ll play a number of songs from Vows a little bit differently tonight, not so people feel uncomfortable but definitely challenged. Plus I’ll add in a couple of new ones from the album I’m making.” Ah, yes the new album.  Kimbra tells me she’s been holed up in LA working with a variety of collaborators including Daniel Johns, Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Reuben Neilson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), and abstract beat wizards Flying Lotus and Thundercat, who she’s raving about today.  “He’s got these amazing beats; each artist adds something of their own to the record.  I didn’t just want session musicians who’d play what I wrote.  I got inspired by those around me.  Daniel and I were into the electric harp, so we sat around all day playing little tunes, working out different sequences, until stuff stuck.  I also got (soul singer) John Legend in for a number – I like to have variety, to mix up ideas within songs.”  Kimbra has described her work as ‘pop-prog’  “I get asked that a lot”, she laughs, “I mean – it’s a combination of weird time signatures, classic girl-group sing-alongs and progressive, experimental music.”

Mckenzie, who’s sitting next to us is bursting to ask her when she got into this kind of music. Kimbra tells her about working away in her bedroom on little songs on her guitar, songs about rainbows and dragons.  She still does this, teasing out little “monsters” tunes and ideas that will come to something down the line.  Her collaborations and experiments are her inspirations she tells us.  “I still love timeless music with a strong melody but experimenting is where the edge comes in.”

Kimbra’s new album is a sort of journey involving multiple locations. First, she with ‘Wally’ deBacker (Gotye) in a Melbourne, with a “huge bunch of cool instruments like Critter and Guitari pocket pianos, Yamaha strings and stompers, and all this (great) stuff he collects up.”   Then after flying over to the States for the Grammys she set up shop in LA.  “It’s a very glossy town for a Kiwi.  Everyone’s and actors,” she laughs in a false Californian accent. “I was just hangin’ out to meet a plumber, you know?” Relocated, she began writing beats, inspired by Flying Lotus, who eventually contributed, and built up a “palette of music” to ping-pong around producers and collaborators, including Silverchair’s Daniel Johns.   She met Johns as part of an Adelaide festival project, which involved a 35 piece orchestra, a week of song writing and learning Bulgarian vocal scales.    She’s on record as calling it all a “3 day psychedelic experience.”  That work was for Johns’ solo project but the experience was so positive Kimbra called him over to LA to help her out, where she’d been working with producer Rick Costey.  Others to walk in include The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and The Dillinger Escape plan, especially Ben Weinmen who laid down some funky Latin guitars on a few tracks.  Also involved were Morris Hayes (keyboardist for Prince’s New Power Generation) and John Robinson, who’s probably the recorded session drummer ever.  Despite the large number of players Kimbra claims that her studio did not have an open door policy.  “Part of being in that town was about getting in all this creativity, its inspiring.”

That night McKenzie saw Kimbra on stage for the first time. Her outrageous vocal gymnastics and flamboyant costumes brought a high level of drama to the WOMAD stage that knocked the socks of at least one little girl!  LA has been a creative time for her.  Two new songs in her set show the  promise of more edgy, schizophrenic pop, setting expectations high for her new album, which Kimbra promises will be here soon.  And that, no doubt, will be worth breaking a few more road rules for.