St Stephen’s Uniting Church, January 15
Reviewed by John Shand
St Stephen’s Church exemplifies Inter-War Gothic architecture, and the push-you-back-in-your-seat reaction to Hayley Fohr’s songs was that they, too, were darkly, ornately Gothic. Indeed if Trump starts a war the new material that she concentrated on here may even be said to be inter-war.
It is easy to see why Fohr, from Chicago and on her first Australian visit, chooses to play under a stage name (Circuit des Yeux), her presentation being akin to performance art. Rather than unmasking herself to the audience she piles enigma on enigma, hiding her face behind her ample head of hair and her songs behind swathes of synthesised samples.
It would all be one layer of obscurity too many were it not for her voice, which has astonishing range and power, from a rumbling baritone to a soaring mezzo soprano. It is a voice one imagines a prophetess possessing: a Cassandra, or some Old Testament doomsayer. Through a PA system it could engulf the church in such a tsunami of sound that one feared for the resplendent stained glass, part of which featured Moses with his tablets. Noah with his ark may have been more appropriate. Meanwhile she accompanied herself on a 12-string acoustic guitar and controlled labyrinths of keyboard and guitar samples that, on the super-slow Acarina, whooshed between the two sides of the PA to dramatic effect.
Sometimes her singing was so primal you felt we had invaded a very private moment, and yet for all that she poured herself into her concert – leaving absolutely nothing in the dressing room – she did not move one nearly as much as she herself seemed to be moved. This was thanks to a combination of the words being largely unintelligible (which was a pity as her lyrics are almost as singular as her singing) and a certain remoteness implicit in the enigma in which she chooses to envelop herself, so the power and fury seemed a performance rather than a baring of the soul.