I approached Australian Songs with an element of trepidation – would it be possible to sustain an entire 90-minute show just on Australiana performed a capella? I was pretty certain that if anyone could pull it off, it would be comedian, singer and Offspring actor Eddie Perfect,accompanied by seasoned Melbourne comedy-vocal trio Tripod.
Ultimately, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced. The sparse staging at the Arts Centre called to mind a ’70s RSL Christmas party – suggestive of a potential narrative that never transpired. There was just an Australian flag draped over a table with four beer stubbies, denoting a great Aussie BBQ, when the foursome took to the stage and delivered a rendition of Waltzing Matilda. They then took turns blowing into the beer stubbies to begin songs – a gag that soon wore thin.
They played to an affectionate hometown crowd who relished the jestful sparring that was sustained throughout. Perfect was up front about the challenge faced in calling the show Australian Songs. “Sorry for the unimaginative name,” he said. “We thought of calling it Digeridooop before deciding it was culturally insensitive – and just a shit name.”
As Goyte’s Heart’s a Mess was followed by Australian Crawl’s Errol, a sense of narrowness of scope began to set in. There was little of the social satire or timely political digs that could have been drawn from this material, and the song choices never veered from the mainstream. By the second half it became clear this show was being pitched squarely to a white-bread audience.
The vocal talents on stage were never in question – Perfect became an effective human bass guitar for a satisfyingly experimental rendition ofSilverchair’s Straight Lines before launching into a complete reworking ofKylie Minogue’s Better the Devil You Know. Tripod members Scott Edgar, Simon Hall and Steven Gates exuded well-honed comedic dynamism and vocal expertise – and Perfect’s baritone added depth to the mix.
One of the high points arrived when guitars were introduced for an amusing take on Lanie Lane’s Oh Well, That’s What You Get for Falling in Love with a Cowboy. The rendition provided a glimpse of what the show needed more of – the all-out embrace of the dagginess factor, stretched to the point where silly becomes great. While entertaining, Australian Songs seemed to lack any kind of consistent focus or clear purpose.
For the encore the audience enthusiastically sang along to Archie Roach’s Little by Little. It was welcome corrective to a show that could otherwise have been accused of playing too much to Aussie middle-of-the-road parochialism, despite the richness of talent on display.