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Charismatic crooners

June 19th, 2011

Filed under: FESTIVALS & EVENTS


Humans love music because it moves us. It moves us to feel and do things that ordinary life sometimes doesn’t do, because we don’t pay enough attention. The genius of the Naked Song Festival, every year, is the brilliant programming that spans the full gamut of human emotions (well so it seems). This year I cried, laughed, nodded, admired and danced. And if you can do that in a span of 7 hours and feel like your heart is bursting with thanks, if you feel like your life is richer and that you are capable of so much more than you were before, then good programmers and artists will continue to be in the business of changing lives.

The Villagers: I cried.
Conor J. O’Brien has incredibly good diction. He’s also Irish, which makes you certain that the lyrics will be good – no, excellent. Despite his quirkiness and whimsy, despite the pared down version of his line up, despite the fact that I chose a seat literally a million miles away from the closeness of his songs, The Villagers painted us real pictures. Many of them sad, which left me gulping for air. Bittersweet notions to be found In A Newfound Land You Are Free about new territories containing both grief and freedom, and Becoming a Jackal, about a dreamer’s fears and ultimate doom; but with this group it’s the nexus of chord, melody and lyric that gets you. Right. There.

Teitur: I laughed.
Described as other patrons as “nerdy”, I found Teitur‘s performance incredibly intimate. Engaged in an awkward one-sided conversation with us, he (sometimes redundantly) announced before each number what it would be about. But he filled his pieces with oozes of time. Pauses. Moments for us to catch our breath. His piano playing contained dynamic control – the deliberation you see more often in a classical musician (although technically his ability is of another ilk). The show was more cabaret in style than I had expected, and yet that was refreshing. I couldn’t help but laugh at his absurd observation about wanting to photograph parakeets over having coffee whilst sitting near John Malkovich in the King’s Road café, before singing You Never Leave LA.

Joan as Police Woman: I nodded.
You know, in the beginning of this highly anticipated performance, I was not sure what my ultimate verdict was going to be. You really needed to go the distance with Joan, because she began shakily. Slightly skewiff. Her original songs left me a bit “mwah”. I found her musical instrument technique lacking (a bit like hearing myself accompany myself on a rainy Sunday arvo) on both the piano and guitar. But … her true instrument is her voice, and her interpretation of song. This woman is a diva. As the 50 minutes went on, Joan served us her soul, on a platter. And it was wrapped up in a big red bow when she gave us Woman, her version of the John Lennon classic.  I nodded righteously throughout this rendition.

Marques Toliver: I admired.
This young man has perfect pitch which was brutally challenged in the little corner he was assigned to play. On the zither, toy xylophone and the violin, Marques Toliver (pronounced “Mar-kiss”) astonishingly sang, stamped and clicked his way through a wonderous syncopated one-man-band show of somewhat familiar numbers. He struggled for perfection, which to him was out of his reach, and he couldn’t hide his extreme frustration the entire set; we loved him anyway.

Thomas Dybdahl and band: I danced.
The Naked Song Festival isn’t really a dancing sort of festival. You sit in concert halls, mostly in the dark, and you are sung to by artists in a mostly unplugged atmosphere. However, when (the extremely handsome, sigh) Thomas Dybdahl enters the room, his ego looms large and you just want to be in his general vicinity. Thomas said he and the band didn’t know us well yet, and wanted to get to know us over the next hour or so. He invited us to do whatever we liked; call out, sing along, dance anywhere we liked. The stage even. The staid Eindhoven crowd didn’t seem to take the bait. But fast-forward 40 minutes you’ll see that Thomas is irresistible. There we were, putty in his hands. Dancing at his feet and bopping within arm’s reach at his side – and feeling all the warmth and energy right up close. Gosh, I can’t pick a favourite number. He is technically excellent (even playing the ‘whirly’ – not his ‘best instrument’ was a masterpiece with It’s always Been You,) his voice never fails him, his oeuvre spans all genres and his influences cannot be mentioned in one sentence. Go see him, I say.

The Naked Song Festival. The power of song, the wit of its writers and the charisma of its performers result in life in all its colours. I was saying to my companion last night, wherever I am, whether I am living in Buenos Aires or Melbourne in the distant future – I will always come back to Eindhoven for this festival. Year in, year out.

(I say this despite my mild disappointment with the catering in terms of quality and service, and also reports I heard that the building is ‘impossible to navigate’. But next year, I hope that the festival is longer than just one day, and that these minor points can be addressed. Such a shame to not provide the complete package …)

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