Dave McCormack live review

SMH, Aug 2004

There was a point in the 1990s when the Brisbane music scene was buzzing, when three of the country's biggest indie bands all called the city home.

It wasn't as long ago as it feels, and Dave McCormack's Custard is the only band of the trio, so far, to not last the distance.

Powderfinger have crossed over into a multi-platinum zone of tight, middling stadium rock, and Regurgitator have just locked themselves into a bubble in Melbourne for an astute piece of performance art-meets-reality TV marketing bonanza.

It's difficult to think of another Australian band's frontman who's taken the experience of being in a big indie pop band and survived its collapse to flourish as a solo artist.

McCormack is doing a decent job of it. Plenty of the fans still turn out to hear the Custard songs - and he obliged, not being precious about these things, with a few favourites. Throughout the set, for the new and old material, the audience was in the palm of his hand.

McCormack, in a deceptively unassuming way, is a consummate showman. In his new song, Hypnotist of Lady, he sings, "I ain't no bad man, baby, I'm just an entertainer, here to entertain you".

Even in the Annandale Hotel's unglamorous, sticky-carpet ambience, that's what he does. Songs get rambling introductions, with punchlines hovering tantalisingly in the next sentence. His regular band, the Polaroids, tight and attuned to their frontman's timing, punctuate his gags with well-played pop songs.

He breaks down the disco-bass-lined Custard hit Girls Like That into an evangelist style "I had a dream" story, that wends around, totally engaging but signifying nothing, nothing but the message to dance. The band kick in, without missing a beat.

McCormack's music has never been inaccessible, and the immediacy of new songs like Who Could It Be and the relative sophistication of The Truth About Love (say, compared with the rawer The Inner West from his last solo album), makes for a strong set.

Although he could be accused of emphasising quirkiness over content in the past, McCormack has struck a satisfying balance between the acknowledgement that this isn't rocket science - just pop music - and the scraps of significance offered up here, between the gags.

And if nothing else, it's damn entertaining. Brisbane should be proud. Although he has been living here for a while now, so maybe we can claim his as one of ours.

Mongoloid Dave's Note: If anyone is interested, I learned from the Dave McCormack mailing list that the complete setlist for this gig was:

who could you love
pack yr suitcases
new matthew
who can it be
millionaire balloonist
harminica (not played)
truth about love
inner west
girls like that
if you ever leave me
faith healer
you broke my heart
i'm bored (not on setlist, sung by 'gentle' ben who nearly kicked us in the head)