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Classic rock and dinosaur. Angie McMahon photographed by Jess Gleeson


Sydney Opera House, May 12


WHO? HERE? HOW? It may be surprising to some that Angie McMahon has almost surreptitiously reached the sales and status of an Opera House show. There’s not been the usual hoopla of radio domination, ARIA trophies or, most influentially, major attention overseas, though her fans are increasingly legion.

And given her shellshocked response early in the show – and in the middle of the show, and late in the show, as she muttered more shock and awe appearing in a room she’d never even stepped into as a civilian before – McMahon may be one of those most surprised.

But it is not just the devotion of her fans – and they are passionately devoted: bringing homemade signs; repeatedly declaiming their feelings even as McMahon told them she couldn’t hear or locate them because of the in-ear monitors the band were using for the first time this night – or even some zeitgeisty willingness to be exposed and to say the truth, that has her here. Nor is it just the way her speaking voice, light and always on the point of withdrawing, is transformed when singing into a broad and deep-forging icebreaker that controls the space.

It is the way intense songs like Saturn Returning and Fish rose from thick moods and tight grips and spilt over the edges in eruptions of power (the drums, the drums) and emotion (the voice, the voice). And the way Divine Fault Line got stronger the further it went on even as it seemed to be carrying our weight as well as hers, while Exploding soared in exultation and Making It Through was a heart-sweller.

If melody is not her flourish - the winding, crooning attractiveness of Black Eye and the cocktail sway of Serotonin notwithstanding - she compensates with a knack for the build, what you might call the last chance power drive that used to define heartland rock. These are old fashioned rock songs in loose shorts and ‘90s shirts, indie rock songs in classic leather jackets and hotted up Toranas, songs of depression in uplifting garb.

This is where a song like I Am Already Enough wasn’t just an affirmation; it became reclamation and a rallying cry that shook the ground. Where Slow Mover took its sensuality seriously enough to loosen the bonds and waggle its hips, and Letting Go lived its cry of “it’s ok, it’s ok, make mistakes, make mistakes” by almost running completely loose in its charging climax.

Looking for more roots? Look beyond Blowin In The Wind done as a low key hymn at the organ, as if being played by Billy Preston during the Get Back sessions, and note that If you’re going to remake a national standard like Reckless - new lyrics baby! - why not blend in Neil Young’s After The Goldrush and blast it?

That’s setting out your stall. That’s owning your time. That gets you to the Opera House. 



Angie McMahon plays

Bar On The Hill, Newcastle, May 17

Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul, May 18

Odeon Theatre, Hobart, May 25

Forum, Melbourne, May 29 and 31

Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo, June 1

Perth Concert Hall, June 6

Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide, June 7

San Fran, Wellington NZ, June 14

Powerstation, Auckland NZ, June 15


A version of this review was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald


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