Political tangos

Greg Hooper

Lordy, Lordy, Praise be to Jesus. Cut your throat now life doesn’t get any better than this. Topology. Corridors of Power. Brisbane Powerhouse. On the program tonight is a collection of Aussie tangos circa 1997—The Keating Tangos—initiated by Russell Gilmour after the political demise of the Blacktown Domingo. These tangos are short, a couple of minutes at most, and are delivered in pairs between the longer pieces. First up, only some mother from the wrong side of the House couldn’t love The Scumbag Tango, lyrical and perhaps even a tad sneaky. Or straight out of a Leunig nightclub comes The Sweetest Victory Tango, busy sax with a doodley piano solo to demonstrate heartfelt emoting.

With a couple of tangos under the belt Topology move onto Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover by Michael Daugherty (US). Sing Sing is clever. Daugherty drops in cliché after cliché: glissando strings like sirens, the most appalling saccharine Home of the Brave/Battle Hymn of the Republic maudlin nightmare trash. Except it’s not cliché, maudlin, or trash. It’s witty and resonant. Beautifully played. Clever. And over the top is the voice of Hoover, our father.

Post Sing Sing and it’s another couple of tangos. Richard Vella’s Tango for micro-economic reform is sad, majestic, a little furtive and world weary. The Mabo Tango: The Lizard of Oz from Robert Davidson is up. Poppin’ bass. Slab piano. Following is David Lang’s (US) Cheating, Lying, Stealing. “Ominous funk” it says on the score and that’s what it sounds like. There’s low down staccato sax for starters and then a piano figure. Up the register and oriental mourning breaks in courtesy of the viola and sax. Spatial percussion on car brake drums either side of the stage and the piano carries on regardless. A friend leans over and says “Hate to lose my place in the score.” That sort of piece.

Even more tangos. Tango Republic is all salon music, God Save the Queen, ABC themes and cucumber sandwiches. The Placido Tango is slimy, themed for Lotharios of regret.

Next is a Topology rendition of Pat’s Aria from Nixon in China by John Adams. It’s a gem, and I keep noticing what a great touch Kylie Davidson has on the piano.

Last before the half time break is another piece by Robert Davidson, Big Decisions: The Whitlam Dismissal. Davidson is a master at capturing the rhythm and pitch of spoken voice, and using it to structure music. In this case a bunch of statements from various worthies presiding over the last gasp of Crash Through Or Crash. So the piece is chunky, where a spoken phrase is a chunk. And it’s polite. “Well might we say God Save the Queen …” as drawing room farce. Kerr’s Cur as strictly fairground.

Polite and farcical. And looking back, giving The Dismissal a bit of the Then and Now, it’s true. No-one stormed the streets, threw TVs through shopfront windows, or overturned cars and set them on fire. It was raised voices and heated discussions and going home to crash into failures that have stood the test of time.

After the interval is Airwaves. I’ve reviewed this before. (Topology and Loops, Queensland Biennial Festival of Music, RT 45, p31). Good to hear it again.

Corridors of Power, Topology, Aug 17, Brisbane Powerhouse.

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 45

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002