Martin Martini and the Bone Palace Orchestra, Huckleberry Swedes @ Fowler’s Live, Adelaide (30/5/08)

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Adelaide’s The Pariah opened the bill to an audience that could’ve car-pooled to the gig together. As the band fumbled nervously through its songs, vocalist Cameron attempted to warm the crowd with banter: “I grew up in the suburbs of Canberra,” he said. “Where they’re even more afraid of change than in Adelaide.” Unsurprisingly, the audience’s response to being labelled as inhabitants of the second-most boring city in Australia was one of silent indifference. Sounding like John Safran singing Redgum covers, Cameron led band-mates Possum and Tsubi through a set of chest-beating, don’t-buy-petrol-on-Tuesdays political angst and ersatz melancholy (“Here’s another song about death. We like death”) before making welcome way for the Huckleberry Swedes.

The Swedes’ stature in Adelaide music circles belies their mere three years together. Since meeting in 2005, Troy Loakes and Mark Elsberg have put together a band that blends as tight musically as it does sartorially. In tribute to the Southern attire of Mark Twain’s era, from whose works the band took its name, the outfits pay homage to the vintage country upon which the Swedes have put a contemporary twist, a la Ryan Adams or Wilco. Once again, their sweet harmonies and well-crafted, back-porch foot-tappers proved their reputation.

Any semblance of theatre lent by the Swedes’ costumes, however, seemed as normal as tight black denims and Chuck Taylors upon the arrival of Martin Martini and the Bone Palace Orchestra. The Vaudeville rocker and his five-piece band burst onto the stage looking like an unhinged high-school music teacher directing his favourite students in a mescaline-fuelled musical.

Previous press has just about exhausted all available superlatives in describing Martini, from “Tom Waits crossed with Tim Minchin” to “Rasputin-like” to “wild-eyed malevolent pied-piper”. His music is even harder to categorise: rock, cabaret, funk, gypsy, jazz, circus – perhaps even blues. The wonderfully genre-defying originality of Martini’s work seems borne of his peculiar circumstances. He attended the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and even performed in a number of major musicals before the constraints of scripts and direction became too restrictive. Though his love for theatre is patent in his performance, Martini is a man capable only of taking cues from Martini, so he formed the Bone Palace Orchestra and turned his cannon loose upon the live music and cabaret circuits.

Like a man with so many thoughts and too little time to express them, Martini explosively railed against right-wing politics, spurious weight-loss programs, techno-savvy anti-socialists and religion (“I caught Jesus sleeping in/He had a nice boy sleeping next to him”). The curiously young band (I’m sure the clarinet player, “Eyeball” Sam Dunscombe”, was still in his school uniform) occasionally looked to the whirling Martini for direction through brilliantly raucous jams of guitar, clarinet and trombone solos, but all played exceptionally better than their nervous glances to the maestro suggested. Or perhaps they were just concerned by his dancing, too.

Check out all the photos HERE