A live review for The Australian. I don’t usually publish my live reviews here on my blog – I keep track of them on my Last.FM journal instead, which is also syndicated in the right column of this page – but since this is my first review for the national paper, I thought I’d make an exception. Full review below.
Incidentally, this is the 223rd live review I’ve written since June 2007.
Katie Noonan spreads warmth against the chill winds
MUSIC Elixir. Featuring Katie Noonan
Brisbane Powerhouse, September 9.
THE true mettle of any musical outfit can be measured against how they perform in adverse situations.
Six hours before this show, inner-city Brisbane is subject to a torrential downpour. When Elixir begin their first set of a two-night stand, a chill wind runs through the makeshift outdoor theatre.
It stays this way throughout their 90-minute performance. Yet besides the occasional raised eyebrow and witty quip between songs, the three-piece jazz trio and their string quartet stay focused, airborne sheet music be damned.
Eight years have passed between Elixir’s self-titled 2003 release and last month’s First Seed Ripening. Late in the set, singer Katie Noonan remarks that she was “much younger, single, and not a mum” when she first wrote Tip of Memory, the first track from their debut. Soprano saxophonist Zac Hurren — Noonan’s husband — beams approvingly.
The trio is completed by guitarist and rhythmic linchpin Stephen Magnusson, who sits straight-backed centrestage and remains stoically poised, even while deftly navigating the fretboard.
Unexpectedly, the insistent gusts add dramatic heft to Elixir’s elegant compositions. It’s quite something to behold Noonan’s purple dress aflutter while she emotes through remarkable voice and outsized gestures.
At times, the purr of a side-of-stage generator is louder than the musicians; wind can be heard through the singer’s microphone.
A couple of covers are aired, though the trio prefer to consider them “tributes”. There’s a spacey version of the 2007 Radiohead b-side Last Flowers, which features Noonan twiddling with a vocal effects unit, and a loose interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man.
Highlights include new track Hemispheres, thanks largely to the intricate string parts that bookend its six-minute narrative, and Tip of Memory, with contrasting string accompaniment of violence and beauty arranged by Paul Grabowksy.
While rubbing her hands together in a final attempt to generate heat, Noonan declares the band are heading inside “to test the theory that red wine makes you feel warmer. We’ll do our own market research”.
Their finely crafted set ends with Snapshot and words from Noonan that are less suggestion than command: “Go home and cuddle, to keep warm.”