Camelot Lounge, February 12
“I want you to realise you’re hearing one of the best bass players in the known universe,” Katie Noonan told us after singing Sign Your Name. She’s right. Phil Stack is among our living cultural treasures, to rate with a Ben Quilty or Nicole Kidman. As the great Danny Thompson used to do with the late John Martyn, Stack took Terence Trent D’Arby’s song to a different zone of mood and drama with his high-contrast style of massive bottom-end root notes one moment and sudden flurries of melodic activity the next. He did it again in a completely unrehearsed duet with Noonan on True Colors, her porcelain voice spot-lit against his sparse growls and striking glissandi.
More often this was not the ideal context in which to hear Noonan, Stack, pianist Sam Keevers, saxophonist Zac Hurren or drummer Evan Mannell. Noonan’s concept was to take a dozen pop songs that had rattled her young bones in the 1980s, and reinterpret them in a loosely jazzy haze. She could, however, have chosen the material less subjectively; zeroed in on the songs that were happiest being opened up this way.
The childhood Noonan’s taste was patchy at best. She made more of I’d Do It for You than the overwrought thing deserved, and Electric Blue, Take Me On and When Tomorrow Comes still sounded like disposable pop, even when Keevers threw a slashing piano solo at the latter.
By contrast Neil Finn’s Don’t Dream It’s Over worked superbly, with Noonan gently letting the lyrics weave their spell against the merest gauze of accompaniment. So did Sign Your Name, which, beyond Stack’s bass, had Mannell incorporating bongos and Keevers adding film-noir piano. Noonan exquisitely ornamented the melody of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and Hurren added bluff, blustery tenor to Where the Streets Have No Name. The Sting/Prokofiev song Russians was an interesting choice, although Noonan’s voice was pushed beyond that gorgeous porcelain quality into brittleness, and the arrangement cried out for the addition of arco bass.