Melbourne Review Wrap: The Vampires and Chris Abrahams; Membrane of Jesus Nostri; Beck; Black midi

Membra Jesu Nostri ★★★★½
Pinchgut Opera, Melbourne Recital Centre, 4 April

Sydney-based Pinchgut Opera set the scene for the approaching commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus and gave a heartfelt account of Dietrich Buxtehude Membrane Jesu Nostri, a cycle of seven cantatas by the Danish-born Baroque composer Contemplating the Body of Jesus on the Cross. The music adopts the upward gaze of a pilgrim at the foot of the cross and alternately considers the feet, knees, hands, sides, chest and heart of the crucified Jesus, culminating in his thorn-crowned head.

Pinchgut Opera performs Membra Jesu Nostri in Sydney.

Pinchgut Opera performs Membra Jesu Nostri in Sydney.Credit: Anna Cucera

Led by Erin Helyard on organ and backed by players from the Orchestra of the Antipodes, Pinchgut harnessed the powerful vocal energy of five magnificent young singers. Sopranos Alexandra Oomens and Lauren Lodge-Campbell, a delightfully complementary pair, impressed with a nuanced blend of brilliance and clarity, while Hannah Fraser’s polished mezzo-soprano particularly stood out in the fifth cantata. Here Louis Hurley unfolded his honeyed tenor with great expressiveness. In the penultimate cantata, Andrew O’Connor’s sonorous bass appealed intensely to the Sacred Heart.

The instrumentalists who underpinned this rich vocal ensemble played with restrained elegance, occasionally flashing dramatic fire when the music called for it. They also invested the final, Buxtehudes Laudate, Pueri, Dominum for two sopranos and viols, with radiant Easter joy. Helyard’s quick touch at the piano brought to life two organ fantasies by Buxtehude’s younger contemporary Johann Pachelbel, which served as preludes to the vocal works.

Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design, which used floral motifs to create a plush, dark ambience, subtly reflected the musical mood but primarily focused on the performers.

Imbued with undeniable sincerity, such a finely structured and stirring performance confirms Pinchgut’s leading role in Australia’s early music scene. We hope that one of the company’s opera productions will eventually come to Melbourne.
Reviewed by Tony Way

Beck ★★★½
Palais Theater St Kilda, April 3rd

We called it Slacker Rock 30 years ago. Strange, considering main protagonist Beck Hansen has been busy as hell pioneering a bold DIY future in which everything from bottleneck blues to (gasp!) rap was grist to the post-genre mill, where pop lives now.

Beck performs at the Palais on April 3rd.

Beck performs at the Palais on April 3rd.Credit: Martin Philbey

He preferred “slow, mournful dirges” to describe the easygoing acoustic atmosphere of his first Australian concert since he could rightly remember. But he sampled a wide range of his dozen or so albums to create a happy place for an adoring audience screaming requests.

He was leading with conversations like old friends do, recovering from lean LA busking days (Don’t pay attention) to pancakes in Paris with Michel Gondry (his cover of the Korgis’ Everyone has to learn at some point). In between, we picked up dead stories about giant rats and burning cooks Nitemare hippie girl And lonely tearsfor which he put down his guitar for a perfunctory piano.


Ring-in local Shawn Supra on bass and (mostly) pedal steel player Shane Riley rounded out much of the set, most effectively with the moody ones changing tide And morning phase Songs that anchored the show: the dejected inner monologues of it’s all in your head, lost cause And awakening light (piano again) were fascinating.

Kicking a footswitch raised the heart rate for Tropicalia and the rough, inevitable ground zero for slacker rock, loserbut the falsetto romance of debra was the only nod this time to the soul-funk side of Beck’s eclectic musician personality.

A faithful nod to Neil Young and a hearty farewell to Daniel Johnstons True love will find you in the end was more about homage than reinvention. But his brave attempt to breathe life into an AI-composed “Beck song” was incredibly horrifying. It’s not going to clone this guy, at least for the foreseeable future.
Reviewed by Michael Dwyer

Black midi ★★★★
Croxton Bandroom, April 1st

Black Midi’s Geordie Greep, the Balladeer of Chaos, dons a tartan deerstalker hat before strangling the mic.

Black Midi perform at The Croxton Bandroom on April 1st, 2023.

Black Midi perform at The Croxton Bandroom on April 1st, 2023.Credit: Rick Clifford

Flashing lights cast ghost story shadows across the crooner’s face. The rhythm drifts between swing and marching drums until he serenades the sold-out crowd with his rough cabaret performance: “To die for your country does not wins a war / To kill for your country is what wins a war!”

Formed in London in 2017, Black Midi is a band of clinical musicians who laugh in the face of over-ambition. They get their name from the Black Midi genre, where the layering of music appears black in standard notation, making it impossible to play without a digital interface.

The band’s genre is equally impossible to pin down, spanning Astor Piazzolla’s tango influences, the surrealism of Primus, Scott Walker’s lyrical vision, Mahavishnu Orchestra’s jazz fusion and the gyrating intensity of no-wave band Swans.

Black Midi challenges audiences to think beyond the layers of their music.

Black Midi challenges audiences to think beyond the layers of their music.Credit: Rick Clifford

Although Black Midi met at the prestigious BRIT School for the Performing Arts, their aesthetic is a nod to the musical rabbit holes of the internet age. As the band members studied, Greep radicalized the conversation in their online group chats, with links to Danny Brown, Miles Davis, and Death Grips.

And it’s not just access to endless libraries that make Black Midi forward-thinking. The band addresses issues that haunt their young audience; of social fear, of war, consumerism and housing policy. These problems become epiphanies, welded together by disjointed drums that function like weapons of hope.

Prompting the audience to think beyond the layers of their music, Black Midi barks into the mic one last time: “When the smoke clears, what’s left?” The curtains were drawn and there was no encore. The concert felt like a ghost train, leaving the passengers scared, hopeful and alive for a moment.
Reviewed by Mahmood Fazal

Jaclyn Diaz

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