Live Review – Oliver Mann

November 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, November 5, 2009.

Oliver Mann
Nick Huggins
E-wah Lady
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oliver Mann’s vocal gifts are so singular that sometimes, musical accompaniment can feel like a distraction. It’s an odd way to frame the Melbourne lad’s work, for his band are exemplary and their arrangements are a defining attribute of a sound that might otherwise fit all too neatly into classically tinged folk-pop. But sometimes, you just want to hear that voice – its weightlessness one second, its towering robustness the next.

It happens near the death of a busy Northcote Social Club last Thursday night. It’s the launch of Mann’s new 7” Tin Power and his band – Biddy Connor on strings, soprano Monica Sonand on keys and harmony, drummer R.King Bon, and Dave and Michael Kean sharing guitars and bass – are already back in the shed. Holding the stage with nothing but his undersized acoustic guitar, Mann’s encore of vintage Oliver Mann Sings album track ‘Shoe of Leather’ leaves the room speechless – lilting strums and high-register swooping into a chorus that cuts and thunders through air and the light 11pm atmosphere. It’s an astonishing moment.

But back to the beginning.

I only catch the end of E-wah Lady’s set, but her noise-flecked blues seems to have most of the room onside. It takes guts to do what Touch Typist frontman and precocious production kid Nick Huggins does. He is about the details and minutiae; his brand of reductive pop is so sparse you’d think it would dissolve in the gentle chatter of the crowd. But his clutch of spacious baritone guitar phrases, micro-synth textures and forlorn vocal mumbles hold the room admirably.

By the time Mann and band take the stage, the 7” is already marching from the merch desk. Some guy offers some stray wisdom: “If I don’t come home with seven inches,” he proclaims dramatically, “I don’t come home at all.” Seems a theme for the night.

Onstage, Mann is his usual swather of happy contradictions. Bald head, big beard; pants too big, tie too thin; operatic baritone, shameless dancer. Everyone in the room – young, old, mum, dad – is there for him and he and the band bring it. There’s a shimmering rendition of ‘A Burning Fire’, Monica Sonand harmonising beautifully over hand-clapped percussion, while the interlocking guitar lines and soaring harmonies of ‘Diamonds n Silver’ and the endlessly beautiful chronicle of grief ‘The Sun Still Shines’ make for more highlights. Mann’s camped-up pop fave ‘Dancing’ has a few doing just that.

The subject of the evening, the sombre, arcane ‘Tin Power’, pares things back a little. It’s one of the night’s darker moments – Mann’s booming lower-registers underscored by a skeletal guitar line – but also one of the strongest.

It’s often hard to judge the quality of a show at comparative love-in such as this. These are Mann’s people and there’s a buoyant feeling in the air. To my mind, it’s a good show from a positively charismatic character. That said, when he’s really on, Mann – not unlike his elder brother Paddy, of Grand Salvo fame – can be transcendent.

Tonight, as if by design, it comes in the encore – the last breath. The room clears slowly, quietly. Our friend from the merch desk is seen with his precious seven inches in hand. He goes home.

Dan Rule

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