Friday, May 14, 2010
So last night I venture to The Union Hotel north of the river to see my old hero, Stephen Cummings (pictured above). Suave old Stephen. It used to be just 'Suave Stephen', but he's earned the 'old' tag now.
He's really starting to lose it, I'm afraid. His shows have been less enjoyable to me for a few years now, but last night he really didn't do himself any favours. Hey, I still love him - don't get me wrong. But you know your hero is on the way out when he has a folder filled with cheat sheets and he still can't play a single song without error. Did you even rehearse for this latest residency (Thursday nights in May), Stephen? In an old interview on Rage (ABC TV) Stephen suggested one of the beautiful things about music was that people sang their own versions of the songs they loved, substituting lyrics and lending to the work's organic nature. It is a charming story, and riotous that Stephen is essentially doing the same thing to his own songs.
The man is so full of charismatic charm it is almost impossible not to let him get away with it. But the inner muso in me had me practically volunteering to get up and snatch the guitar out of his hands and let him concentrate on the vocal bits. He reminds me of Sinatra (and comparison Stephen would likely relish) when he gave his farewell tour and was caught singing from an auto-cue. Stephen, you are still a formidable force, but you are first and foremost an entertainer - and you do owe your audience the respect to at least put a little more in, or employ some talented others to shoulder some of the burden. Hell, I'll even do it for free.
But to visit a Stephen Cummings show merely to bask in his virtuoso abilities would be ludicrous. It is still the man I love. The man I want to be. He is as charming and effusive as ever. His stumbling and bumbling, whilst frustrating to me - the musician, is ultimately endearing. Some people's old uncles regale you with oft repeated tales, but Stephen regales you with THAT voice. Those mannerisms. And his stories are as funny as ever. Last night's revelation that Catherine Deveny only became an atheist at 38 years of age was precise and hilarious. As much as I've bagged him above I can think of no other performer, or human being, that I'd rather have over for dinner. The man is a living legend, and despite his modern limitations I urge you all to go and see him. One day he may stop doing this - and that I just couldn't bear.
Thanks to Tim & Loz for their incredible hospitality, and the vinyl karaoke session well into the wee small hours. Mark's impromptu rendition of Weddings Parties Anything's 'Up For Air' was incredible... only the second other person I know that knows the song - and he could play it, too.
Anyway, I may well yet make it back to The Union next week for another dose. Only next week I may well pack my ukulele and offer my services to Stephen to spare him his frailties.