Live review: Maxine Kauter Band, Green Room Lounge, January 2012

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: rock
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The protagonist of Robert M Pirsig’s 1974 book, ‘Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ drives himself to near-insanity in his quest to define Quality. What is Quality? What makes this mountain or that taco ‘better’ than that mountain or this taco?

It is a thought that crosses my mind more than a little as I sit in the audience checking out this band or that, this artist or that – why is she so so so much ‘better’ than so-and-so? Unlike Pirsig’s poor thinker, it hopefully won’t put me in the nuthouse but it can be maddeningly undefinable – its very undefinability the very juice of art appreciation across painting, writing and, yes, music.

The thought has risen up in my head on the last few occasions I have seen Sydney’s Maxine Kauter and her Band (and hit me hard when listening to her CD ‘Alibech the Hermit’). This is Quality stuff – the good oil, the real deal, kosher, dinkum. Of course all the elements are there – smart and sharp songwriting peopled with intriguing characters, literate without being yawningly clever-clever, beautifully sung, lovingly played by the Band – none of which remotely begins to explains the music’s Quality. (Of course, part of me worries that if I do define it, the magic will evaporate – but there is no danger of that here).

Enmore’s intimate Green Room Lounge was far from intimate on the drippingly humid Thursday I chose to check them out. In fact, the hot-bodies bar-crush could be a little too intimate at times, but a good place to check first support, the fantastically named Piers Twomey whose deep songs caused ripples in my vodka and tonic.

Piers was followed by Suzy Connolly whose bright and sweet music (and good-humour) was challenged by the loud indifference of too many there. She very nicely mentioned Jeff Tweedy’s famous lecture to a chatting audience, and retained her composure when the noise didn’t die down. They really should have listened; her songs are worth it.

The Maxine Kauter Band’s full-band muscle over-rode the blabbing barflies but their Quality shut them up good and proper. Opening with the title track from ‘Alibech The Hermit’, a swinging folk-pop gem swung by the surefooted rhythm section of Shannon Haritos on double bass and drummer Stephen Beverley, the set moved from mood to mood, all of it entrancing.

Kauter’s songwriting touches on folk, pop, rock and so-called ‘roots’ music but, like all truly gifted songwriters, her songs create and inhabit their own world, one we are invited to peer into from odd angles, sometimes through coloured-glass windows. Often the mood is made from two or three repeated chords but, like the best country music, the music is never allowed to break the spell of the telling. The Neil Young-like darkness of ‘Slow Reveal’, the humid eroticism of ‘My Maria’ – with a popping and moaning double bass solo from the always-happening Haritos – the irresistible pop choogaloo of newie ‘All Of This’; it is a jewel-box of a set.

A just-for-fun cover of King Missile’s 1992 hit ‘Detachable Penis’ – Kauter having some gender fun as well as belly-laugh fun – roils with electric guitarist  Peter Holz’s reverb-a-grind Stratocaster. Over the remainder of the set Holz plays with a gift for atmosphere: chiming jangle here, a touch of aching slide there, very tasty.

Through the surreal glass garden of ‘Going Down’ and out through the rocking ‘Hey’ – the explosive ending a showcase for snapping drummer Beverley  – and we wake up in Enmore’s Green Room, out of a dream it seems.

In dreams, as in Art, the definition of Quality is as meaningless and ephemeral  as the band’s last trailing dying note. I don’t worry about it anymore; I know what it is without knowing what it is, and that is enough.

Published January 2012 on theorangepress.net

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