[MUSIC/Cabaret ~ SA]
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Fri 25 Jun.
A dark swirl of Moog synthesiser sets the scene while Max Savage and his cohort of exemplary Adelaide musicians gather on stage. To one side there is a large blank canvas for painter Josh Baldwin to create an artwork during the performance. Max lets the drone drift on until he has assembled enough resolve to launch into his cycle of original songs.
What unfolds is not a simple retelling of the Ern Malley story. That has been done by the publicity material. If nothing else, Max Savage has brought the Ern Malley story back into public memory. But it is difficult for the innocent bystander to work out exactly what connection this show has to the Ern Malley hoax. Perhaps it is simply that by immersing himself in the Ern Malley poems and the scandal that followed, Max has drawn inspiration from the modernist art movement’s creative manifesto of experimentation and innovation.
The line-up consists of musicians noteworthy for their jazz credentials – Ross McHenry (bass, Moog), Adam Page (clarinet), Julian Ferraretto (violin), Django Rowe (lead guitar, banjo), Brenton Foster (piano), Steve Neville (drums), with Max prowling the stage to coax the players ever onwards. Despite elements of freeform jazz the music also rocks out at times in the style of a Joe Cocker or Tom Waits. Intense, but engaging. At other times, with Max strumming an acoustic guitar the mood is more intimate. Max Savage’s strong voice growls, howls and at times almost croons. All these styles of music seem to blend together seamlessly.
After taking us on a compelling journey the song cycle returns to its beginning, the earliest songs repeated and finishing with the Moog drone. Throughout we have been watching a desert landscape emerge on the canvas, and final touches are added as the music draws to a close.
I love the music, am really impressed with Max Savage’s songs and performance and enjoy watching Josh Baldwin create a fine work of art in such a short space of time. I am left still pondering connections to Ern Malley, but know that I have seen quality writing, performance and painting at work.
Photo courtesy of Jack Fenby