This is the fourth Sydney Festival First Night and so having missed the other three I thought I had better take it all in.
Rocked into the city late afternoon so I could do a tour of all the venues, the first thing that grabbed my attention was just how many road closures were going to be put in place. Fantastic that an arts event can close down so much of the CBD traffic.
At the Martin Place stage I caught the Chinese group Hanggai going through a couple of numbers for their sound check. Liked what I heard and would have liked to catch their set.
However I was mostly interested in the acts that would be appearing in Hyde Park so I headed over there. First stop was the Silver Screen (well LED screen actually) where an eclectic Orchestra Del Sol had people dancing in front of the screen under the lampshades (very cool design element). Later in the night I caught a piano accompaniment to old films showing Sydney.
Missed all the ukuleles on the main stage and came in on Alice and Alice – very clever mash up of sayings from Lewis Carroll with (often naughty) children’s rhymes.
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis were great fun. Skipped Eddie Perfect because I intend to see his full show and headed over to Cathedral Square for a bite to eat and caught a very bizarre wedding photo shoot on the steps of St Mary’s that could easily have been a performance art piece as part of the festival.
Wandered through The Domain – plenty of space available for the punters who would be rolling up for Emmylou Harris.
Back to Martin Place – by his time I had missed Hanggai and something called The Last Kinection were on (and not very interesting – but the wrong genre for me, not into doof)
Up on the other Macquarie St stage TaikOz were preparing for their show and I caught up with Dan Barnett. Dan is musical director for the Trocadero Dance Palace that I will be attending next week at Sydney Town Hall and tonight was assisting on the TaikOz follow-up performance with the balcony drummers.
The TaikOz performance was exciting (as their performances always are) and attracted a huge crowd in Macquarie St. The performance was not amplified and relied on the surrounding buildings to reflect the sound to the audience and that sound ranged from their massive drums to tiny bells and flutes. The nuances of which make their performances so exciting.
At the conclusion of their 20 min piece TaikOz were joined by around 150 extra drummers positioned on the balconies of the Parliament House and an adjacent building. They then performed a call and answer routine between the three locations in a piece written by Graham Hilgendorf and comissioned for the Festival. This should have been a wonderful experience but it was marred by far too much sound channelling up from the Hip Hop stage at the other end of Martin Place. Something that could very well have been avoided by a more sensible programming of both stages.
The audience for this performance stood in Macquarie St and on either side of the stage, unfortunately sightlines were very limited because the stage was not high enough!
Then back down to the Hyde Park stage for The Dynamites – what a fantastic show! Frontman Charles Walker has been performing Soul and Funk since the 60’s, and at 70 years of age he still has the energy and the voice to completely capture his audience. The highlight for me was his rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime. Sung with the passion that only a black American can bring to the song (as Gershwin intended) this rendition soared and the crowd loved it.
Did like the bass player and drummer using their smartphones during the number to capture the crowd from the stage.
Then the amazing Imogen Kelly – Sydney’s self proclaimed burlesque queen and her Let Them Eat Cake routine – love your work bitch!
I missed Smoke and Mirrors at the previous festival (and also at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) so this was my chance to catch a sample from the show that is so talked about.
As the show itself has been reviewed so many times I’m not going to discuss the individual acts but rather how the show worked on the Hyde Park stage away from the intimacy of the Spiegeltent.
First up the feel of the Spiegeltent was recreated in part through the backdrop and secondly the stage is much bigger than that in the tent. Technically – the lighting rig was installed for a one off and had to accommodate a large number of other acts, but did it all well. Audio was excellent where I was down in the mosh pit (I wasn’t leaving my spot to check it out elsewhere) and when his head worn mic failed iOTA seamlessly moved to the handheld quickly provided by stage crew.
This performance included around an hour of material from the full 90 min show and overall this was an excellent experience marred only by the audience.
Not all the audience – just some inconsiderate gen Y types who pushed to the front in the lead up to the S&M show. It was already crowded and people were standing, which restricted viewing of the stage, but then the latecomers where around 6’6” tall (and one must have been close to 7’), they could have had a great view from 200 metres back but insisted in pushing in front of much shorter people who had been there for hours. Then there were the most inconsiderate of all – the smokers, (also mostly gen Y) who insisted on sharing their obnoxious stink with those who had no escape from it.
So Sydney Festival organisers some requests – higher stages in areas where people are going to stand (or maybe the MC could ask people to sit on the grass) and ban smoking in crowded areas (or even provide smoking areas well away from the crowds). And parents, teach your gen Y kids some manners!
At the conclusion of S&M iOTA was in a quiet, reflective part of his closing song when a female voice from down near the front cut through “I think you’re fuckin amazing”
Apart from my very few criticisms, that summed up the whole night!
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A postscript – as I was leaving Hyde Park there was quite a crowd listening to a busker (I think – couldn’t see) outside DJs on the corner of Elizabeth and Park.
The RTA wanted to open up Elizabeth into Park for traffic. From my observation an obvious way to do this would have been to make an announcement via handheld or vehicle mounted megaphone along the lines of “OK folks we need to open up for the traffic so please clear the roads”.
However what I observed was the NSW Police method of crowd control – a couple of burly officers started ordering the busker to shut down and the people to disperse, then when they didn’t (or couldn’t because there quite a crowd) they brought in heavy handed reinforcements including mounted officers and managed to really piss off the punters resulting in a number of confrontations and people scrambling in all directions. Hmmm.