June 22, 2012
She’s a darlin’ girl, Camille O’Sullivan, but I wouldn’t share a house with her. The lounge room floor littered with discarded clothes, booze stashed everywhere, tables covered in knick-knacks, those meows and shrieks she comes out with, and that unsettling way of hers, part Nigella Lawson part Jane Horrocks.
She’d have a crackin’ record collection, mind.
Both sides of O’Sullivan, the nightmare housemate and the brilliant musical auteur, were on display at the Astor Theatre last Thursday during a flying visit to Perth after a stint at the Adlelaide Cabaret Festival.
The somewhat ramshackle first half suffered from a misplaced sound mix and O’Sullivan’s mannered eccentricities. They fit her mixed-up, shook-up Irish-French persona, but they do little for the songs she interprets. And, really, the eight numbers before interval didn’t need zany embellishment. A couple of less-travelled Nick Caves (Oh My Lord and The One I’ve Been Waiting For), Tom Waits’s The Briar and the Rose, and a brace of carnal women’s songs (Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl and Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes) were mighty. Best of all was her unaccompanied howl of Jacques Brel’s The Port of Amsterdam, stripped of its Gauloises-and-accordionated charm and dumped, semen-stained and bloody, in an alley behind the docks.
Everything changed after interval. The sound issues disappeared and we were treated to non-stop showstoppers from O’Sullivan and her band, led by long-time collaborator Feargal Murray and featuring a terrific bunch of Aussie pick-up musicians, Mark Finsteter (guitar), the outstanding Phil Bywater (sax), Michael Galeazzi (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums). I’m often disappointed by the skill and, especially, lack of engagement of contracted musicians. Nothing could be further from the truth in this case.
She came out firing with Americana queen Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator), its spare, harrowing melody sent soaring in a blistering rock anthem arrangement. As good as it gets.
There followed a couple of Dylans (Simple Twist of Fate and an impeccable Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right), the Nine Inch Nails/Johnny Cash neo-standard Hurt, Radiohead’s True Love Waits and, finally, a hymnal singalong to Cave’s The Ship Song.
O’Sullivan’s first encore was a Leonard Cohen song and – hallelujah! – it wasn’t Hallelujah, rather his heartfelt, sweeping Anthem (Ring the Bells), and my relief and gratitude knew no bounds. A parting shot of Radiohead’s Red Wine and Sleeping Pills, and she was out the front chatting to the crowd (whose company she clearly enjoyed).
And, Camille, if there’s ever a spare room at our place, you’d be very welcome.
Link here to an edited version of this review in The West Australian