Photo by Daniel Boud
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, June 13
The staging was simple and under-populated: Greg McMurray with a guitar/bass set-up on one side; Alex Thomas with (natural and electronic) drums /programming on the other; in the middle a synth and acoustic guitar for Beth Orton.
The assumption was similarly simple: electronica mixed with folk; maybe some odd sounds; a voice which can glide but always with an element of fragility about it. This was going to be cruisy.
However, the result was immediately anything but simple.
The soundscape here was a mix of low level percussion and almost treated guitar, washes of sound and little darts of exploratory lines. On top was a deeper voice, a firmer and broodier one, making small waves over the tidal pull.
If it was weird to be thinking Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting, with Nico-in-good-form as the surprise extra – and let’s face it, that trio doesn’t figure in contemporary music often, more’s the pity – it started to make more sense with each new song.
And by sense I mean Roxy Music. Yep, Roxy Music circa big shoulder fins, makeup, tape loops and disturbance in the suburban force.
It came with McMurray – whose other telling contribution was with half-disembodied/half metallic backing vocals - swirling, probing, one minute pin-pointed, the next blurry. With Thomas making feet move in confusing but insistent patterns that turned songs in on themselves or evoked a sense of disquiet.
And with Orton shifting between an odd hint of loucheness and a tempered theatricality that were nothing like her still endearingly awkward stage manner.
So Wave and 1973 (the year Roxy Music released For Your Pleasure incidentally) felt like jagged little pills of glamour and grime, and the reconstituted She Cries Your Name sloped away from us constantly.
Later in the night songs escalated into shards of noise, only to devolve into shiny pools of synthesisers, and Stolen Car appeared in slashed new clothing.
And when Orton was alone with her acoustic – bringing more familiar vulnerabilities and more straight out pretty times to bear – or when Pass In Time threw us back to an early ‘60s Bleecker Street folk music night, the echoes of those sometimes deliciously off-message moments still seemed to hover at the edges.
So not that simple after all, but rather fascinating and inventive, reshaping our expectations constantly.