I feel like I’ve barely had time to breathe this week. There are worse things that being social, but as I age travelling up the highway and back again more than once in a week really takes its toll. Still, when you’re seeing wonderful things it’s worth all the effort. And Idina Menzel’s concert at the Opera House on Wednesday night was certainly a wonderful thing.

I became enamoured with Idina when I discovered Rent in the late ’90s. Wicked came later, and then Glee, with their roles that showcased Idina’s charisma and incredible vocal prowess. So when I heard she was visiting Australia this month, I jumped at the chance to be in the audience. My expectations were high, but she didn’t disappoint.

In fact, this was one of those shows that was even better than I’d hoped for. What a personality Idina has. She was genuinely humble and so incredible open. She was free with stories of her professional and personal life, even when those memories were painful like the loss of composer and mentor Marvin Hamlisch and Rent creator Jonathan Larson.

The music took the night to another level though. It was eclectic mix touching on jazz standards, musical theatre numbers, and even pop songs. It’s rare to find a set with songs from Lady Gaga, Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell, and Peter Gabriel, but I relished it. It all worked so well. Her tender rendition of “Both Sides Now” was spellbinding, her take on Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” invigorating, her performance of Wicked signature song “Defying Gravity” every bit as impressive without green makeup and levitation.

But personally none of them compared to the joy I felt at witnessing her singing my favourite song from my favourite musical, “Take Me or Leave Me”. As it’s a duet I never expected it to make the set, but I didn’t count on her secret weapon: a ridiculously talented Sydney audience. Normally when singers invite random strangers to the microphone the results are cringeworthy. There’s something special about a musical theatre audience though. All the guest vocalists were stellar. If Idina didn’t look so impressed I’d assume they were plants. Witnessing all these great voices coming together was a true highlight.

I’d be remiss not to mention the Sydney Symphony Orchestra too, who helped elevate Idina’s act as only a full orchestra can. What a combination.

I’m still raving about this show to anyone who’ll listen days later. It was incredible, utter magic. And for nights like that, I’ll happily accept a little post-concert fatigue!

The Sydney Opera House is pretty strict about its no-photos policy, so with that in mind I figured I’d share you one of the clips from the tour video. It’s not Sydney, but it shows how special it is when Idina works with an orchestra. Enjoy!

We’ve still got a couple of months to go, but Sue-Anne Stewart gives us a taste of what we can expect from her latest album Gypsy Blood when it drops in September. The video gives us an insight into Sue-Anne’s life and musical influences to the backing of one of her folky, acoustic-driven tunes. There’s nothing flashy here, but that’s exactly why I find myself drawn to what Sue-Anne’s doing. Do you think she’s one to watch?

If you loved “Tomorrow Morning” as much as I did, you’ll be happy to hear that Sweet Jean are taking their sweet alt-country sounds on the road. The musical marriage of Sime Nugent and Alice Keath will hit the road next month to celebrate the July 4 release of their album Dear Departure.

Dear Departure’s been described as a collection of songs reflecting on life, longing, mortality, and misadventure. The duo will take those very personal tracks to the following intimate venues around the country.

12 July 2013 – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh
13 July 2013 – Northcote Social Club, Northcote
18 July 2013 – The Newsagency, Marrickville
19 July 2013 – Singing Gallery, McLaren
20 July 2013 – Barossa Regional Gallery, Tanunda
21 July 2013 – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Thebarton

Image used with permission from Show Off Services

If there’s one thing that you can say about Lee’Mon, it’s that you never know quite what you’re going to get.

You might expect his new track “Albert, Adam & Eve” to contain a deep philosophical discussion about the creation of the universe, but you’re only half there. While it touches on the idea of creationism versus evolution, Lee’Mon’s also thrown in a few aliens to keep things interesting. The Albert of the title is also, as Lee’Mon tells the story, the first monkey in space!

The lyrics are off the wall, but they’re anchored beautifully by strings and bells and a dirtied-up Rhodes piano. The track’s Lee’Mon’s third offering, and it shows us that while he might have grown up, he hasn’t grown any more mainstream!

After smashing targets with their crowdfunding campaign last November, Eskimo Joe are keen to say thank you to their generous fans. They’ll do just that when they showcase some of the new material they’ve been working on as well as treat punters to old favourites on their Winter Warmer Tour.

Kav, Stu, and Joel know it takes something special to bring music lovers out on winter nights, so they’re performing acoustic sets at intimate venues around the country. The sets will also see them reinterpreting highlights from their career so far. Rest assured Eskimo Joe fans, these shows will be worthwhile.

There are still tickets available for the following performances.

26 June 2013 – Paddington Uniting Church, Sydney

28 June 2013 – Old Museum, Brisbane
9 & 10 July 2013 – Moore and Moore, Fremantle
12 July 2013 – Ormond Hall, Melbourne
13 July 2013 – Published Arthouse, Adelaide

Image used with permission from Alpha Entertainment

It’s been a long time coming, but Victorian one-woman electro-pop powerhouse Von Stache has finally treated us to her debut EP Sandbox Love. I reviewed the title track way back in December, and the songs that follow is don’t disappoint.

This is an EP which really celebrates that New Wave sound we all enjoyed in the 80s. It’s summery and joyous, but there’s an undercurrent of feminine rebellion there. Think Kim Wilde or the Go Gos. There’s a little darkness to it, but it’s balanced beautifully with saturated synths and an unashamedly pop energy which is guaranteed to make you smile.

While the title track was also the lead single, the supporting tracks don’t let the EP down. It works really well as a unit, with high energy and no filler. I guess that’s the beauty of a three-track EP, although I can’t help wishing for more!

Fans will undoubtedly get that when Von Stache launches Sandbox Love at the Barwon Club in Geelong on June 29.

Image source: Von Stache Facebook page

If you thought you knew Ngaiire, think again. She’s followed up her fierce debut single “Dirty Hercules” with something much more subdued. The new single’s called “Around”, and it’s a gentle, almost hypnotic affair. It seduces you and creeps under your skin before you’ve even realised it.

It’s a gorgeous song which explores the idea of the push and pull that occurs in so many relationships. It’s not the most glowing endorsement of love, but like so many tracks that delve into the darker side of human emotion it’s incredibly powerful.

Ngaiire will launch “Around” at Sydney’s Venue 505 on June 27 and Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge on June 28 ahead of the release of her highly anticipated debut album Lamentations on July 12.

Image used with permission from Heapsflash

After many long months, Australia finally has another local talent on top of the ARIA Charts. Bernard Fanning’s second solo album Departures is sitting proudly at number one. It gives him his second solo number one in as many albums. Not a bad effort!

It’s the only Aussie album in the top ten, although if we want to get creative we can at least celebrate the local connection to The Great Gatsby soundtrack at number two. Sure it’s chockful of international artists, but it’s from an Aussie-directed film!

If the singles chart tells us anything, it’s that Harrison Craig is all but a show-in to win The Voice. His cover of “Unchained Melody” is at number two and his original song “More Than a Dream” is nipping at its heels at number three. This gives Harrison eight top 40 singles and three top 10s, more than any other Voice contestant. My favorite, Mitchell Anderson, never had a chance it seems.

The influence of The Voice continues with Timomatic’s “Parachute”, the song he performed on last week’s live show, debuting at number seven. Matt Corby rounds out the top ten with his single “Resolution”.

Click below to see this week’s complete top ten!

Read the rest of this entry…

It’s been more than twenty years since a major stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar graced Australian theatres. That makes me feel old, and also believe that the revamp was long overdue. So I couldn’t want to see where the creators would take the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical this month. I’d heard whispers of course, as word trickled through from London. I knew it was edgier, more modern, but I wasn’t prepared for how dramatically different this version was from the one I enjoyed in my youth. Such a shakeup can be dangerous, but in the case of JC Superstar it was inspired.

Rather than placing an orchestra in the pits, organisers put rock musicians to the side of the tiered stage, so close to the action. Those historical costumes were largely gone, replaced with street clothes that wouldn’t have appeared out of place in RENT. Videos beamed onto the back screen alluding to YouTube, game shows, tabloid news.

But at the centre of it all, we had a stellar cast and incredible songs. Those are the key elements that can’t be messed with. They grounded the production and ensured the largely older audience stayed connected despite the contemporary changes. Tim Minchin was predictably Judas. He showed he’s got much more than comedy chops, attacking the complex role of Judas with relish. Ben Forster is a real find. My mum, a three-time JC veteran, said his version of “Gethsemane” was the best she’s witnessed. That song is such a pivotal moment in the musical, and it was played out exquisitely. How exciting to see a Spice Girl furthering her craft rather than cashing in with roles on mediocre reality TV. Mel C held her own against some theatre veterans. I was also impressed with Andrew O’Keefe, who played to his strengths with his glitzy “Lord or Fraud” game show take on “King Herod’s Song.”

The first half was satisfying but the final act was gutwrenching. The production didn’t back away from the horror of the story, and even added some nasty bits for good measure. It wasn’t pretty, but it was inspired.

What a shame more young people didn’t make it to this production. As I looked out at the predominantly grey-haired audience I couldn’t help thinking of how much Gen Y would have enjoyed this thoroughly modern take on classic musical theatre.

There are certain performers that keep you coming back year after year. They always sing the songs you want to hear, sound sublime while doing it, and give so much of themselves to their fans. For my family, Richard Clapton is one such performer.

I first saw Richard Clapton performing a free show with Mental as Anything at the Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum decades ago. I didn’t really know I was a Richard Clapton fan back then. The show was something my parents took me to at an age when I didn’t control such things. But I was definitely a fan by the time I left. I was stunned by how many of his songs I knew, and how effortlessly he performed them.

So many years have passed, and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Richard since. We’ve all grown, but the consistency of his concerts remains. So when my parents won a free dinner and show at Lizotte’s Newcastle, we knew we’d have to see Richard again.

What a shame we had to suffer through Hats Bennett before we did. I rarely make comments so harsh, but there really wasn’t a lot to like about Hats. His hat was cool, and he was a really solid guitarist. It’s just a shame that he didn’t stop there. His songwriting was really underdeveloped (a song about introducing a new cat to another? Really?) and his voice had serious limitations. I don’t need a perfect voice, but if yours isn’t strong you probably shouldn’t aim for a falsetto. It seems I wasn’t the only one, as the crowd’s reactions ranged from bored to bemused.

All was forgiven once Richard stepped on stage though. What a talent he is. It might seem clichéd to insist that he only gets better with age, but the addition of Jak Housden to his band ensures his music is certainly sounding better than ever. Hit after hit washed over us, punctuated by Richard’s witty banter and insights into that brilliant back catalogue. Richard doesn’t seem to mind staying with those time-honoured songs. He knows why people see him play, and he’s only too happy to oblige. He treated us to just one song from his new album Harlequin Nights, ensuring he didn’t push the patience of a crowd that clearly wanted to just sing along.

An encore seemed like a mere formality. We all knew he’d never leave us before singing “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Girls on the Avenue.” Even when his trademark sunglasses snapped in two before that last track, he knew he had to soldier on. He did only half joke that he’d do away with anyone who snapped a photograph though, and when someone cheekily did with a smartphone, I thought he might follow through on that threat! But it was all in good fun, and the perfect end to another great night with Aussie rock royalty.

Image source: own photos