The Butterfly Club: Dave Graney Live in Hell

A curious figure, Graney appearing at the Butterfly Club in Dave Graney Live in Hell, has carved himself a niche as an always quirky, innovative and at times even schmaltzy singer and songwriter in Australia and Europe over the past twenty-five or so years.
The Butterfly Club: Dave Graney Live in Hell
The Butterfly Club: Dave Graney Live in Hell Dave Graney is nothing if not self-aware. In a way, it’s what his new cabaret Live in Hell is all about – but it’s also the reason why, tonight at least, the show didn’t quite live up to its premise. A curious figure, Graney has carved himself a niche as an always quirky, innovative and at times even schmaltzy singer and songwriter in Australia and Europe over the past twenty-five or so years. His efforts have earned critical acclaim and at times popular approval. Live in Hell is the sequel to Point Blank (which debuted in 2006) and it examines the journey of ‘the performer’ once either success, popularity (or even just a hint of either) has taken hold. The show asserts that at such point the performer descends into a living “hell” – not necessarily presided over by a devil but undoubtedly populated by demons of some description. Through a mixture of song, semi-improvised storytelling and a series of pop-culture (particularly pop-music) references, Graney and his band (including leather-clad wife and long-time collaborator Clare Moore) attempt to illustrate this central idea – with the help of absent performer ‘friends’ as loosely connected as Jim Morrison and Chad Morgan. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with Graney’s song-writing tonight – but I really do like the way his mind works. His concept of hell is indeed thought provoking, and presumably the result of much self-analysis. To the small audience of mostly middle-aged musical contemporaries it may have all seemed like something of an ‘in-joke’ at times. But there is more to it than that, and from amongst the self-deprecation emerged a critique not only of the way we as an audience devour our entertainers, but also the way the performers set themselves up for a fall by pursuing continued relevance and simultaneously hankering after the glories of ‘back in the day’. But this leads me back to Graney’s self-awareness. It seemed to me that Live in Hell is a character piece, yet Dave was not completely playing the character. Instead he was caught somewhere in between – unsure whether to immerse himself in the role and suspend disbelief or simply descend into self-parody. Too often he chose the latter – and by doing so he became less convincing and exposed weaknesses in the production that may have gone unnoticed if driven by a more committed performance. I can’t help but feel that the venue also contributed. The Butterfly Club is wonderful, but it allows for only the most skeletal, minimalist production. This particular piece would, in my opinion, benefit greatly from a little more ‘smoke and mirrors’, and a more defined “fourth wall”. The concept behind Live in Hell deserves expansion and elaboration – it really seems to me to require the theatricality only hinted at by Graney’s shimmering purple shirt and trouser set. I think the show will get better over the weekend as Graney and co. become more comfortable with the material. It’s an ambitious project with lots of potential, and Graney has the charisma to pull it off. Certainly worthy of stronger production and a longer season. Dave Graney Live in Hell At The Butterfly Club, South Melbourne Dates: Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 March (three performances) Time: 9.00 pm Ticket price: $27 full / $22 concession and for groups of 8 or more Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com Duration: 60 minutes approx

Lachlan Bryan

Friday 27 March, 2009

About the author

Lachlan Bryan is a singer-songwriter and freelance journalist from Melbourne. His website is www.lachlanbryan.com