Kirin J Callinan treated punters to a night equal parts sublime and surreal on Saturday, blurring the lines between rock and performance art.
Opening proceedings were two local acts that both impressed. Mal de Mer kicked things off, and their bright, heart-on-the-sleeve indie-pop initially brought to mind a shinier Carla Geneve. But as they breezed through an increasingly groovy setlist it became apparent that this was really a funk band in pop clothing. Tracks Do You Wanna Know and Shiraz were underpinned by warbling synths and some seriously tight, skittering guitar work. Frontwoman Saskia Fleming was on point throughout, her vocals melodic but also jazzy and loose when need be. The cover of Jamiroquai’s You Give Me Something went off a treat, and closer Goodbye Headache was pop bliss.
Up next was Butter. These young cats have been making a name for themselves in 2019 and it’s easy to see why. The gig started off as slow blues, with vocalist G-Loch’s muscular delivery calling on the ghost of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. He carried these tunes with confidence against spooky organ figures and blustering sax. However, as the gig progressed Butter stretched out. G-Loch incorporated spoken-word and rap in equal measure, and the band served up some very impressive stop-start segues and jazzy interludes. It’s a musical stew that defies easy categorisation, but dare I say, it’s as smooth as the band’s namesake. The highlight was lurching single Hocus Pocus, all boom-bap drums, cool electric piano riffs, and electric guitar bursts.
Man of the hour Kirin J Callinan was on next, decked out like some sort of techno Bedouin. It was a one-man show, just Kirin and his U-shaped array of guitar pedals. The man is a guitar effects wizard, but his six-string was relatively restrained on this night. No guitar histrionics were required, as Kirin himself gave the crowd more than they bargained for.
Kirin opened with Randy Newman cover Pretty Boy, one-upping the studio version’s menace over-controlled guitar feedback. All subtlety was then thrown out the window with the EDM piss-take masterpiece My Moment. The light show was as appropriately ravey as Kirin, arms outstretched, channelled the spirits of a thousand Eurotrash DJs. Throughout the show the man’s dance moves and command of the stage were mesmerising. Life is Life soon followed, and this industrial rock fanfare was more a showcase for Kirin’s piercing stare and spasmodic movements than anything. The shirt then came off to wild cheers as he launched into Whole of the Moon, arguably the musical highlight of the show. It’s a beautiful cover and Kirin did it justice live with a passionate rendition that included a perfectly executed bit of crowd surfing. Kirin drifted on and off the stage without breaking a beat. Other highlights included a note-perfect take on Bravado, and a suitably louche rendition of The Homosexual.
But above all, the show will be remembered for Kirin’s subversive crowd interaction, which took a beautifully surreal turn in the show’s closing act. His control of the crowd throughout the gig makes one thankful he’s not a cult leader. The show opened with a sound malfunction and, as the techies fixed the problem, Kirin led a crowd chant for both sound guys, the merch girl and the security guard, before finally turning the praise to himself. He had the whole audience on their knees (literally crouching) for no real reason during Whole of the Moon.
Kirin hilariously asked people not to sing along to a spare rendition of Landslide. And he prefaced Living Each Day with a commandment – he had a recurring dream where the crowd abandoned him as he played the song, and on this night they had to do the same. Sure enough, as the song came to a close Kirin rushed the whole crowd out of the gig space. Anticipation was high as a hundred strong crowd filled into Freo.Social’s bar area, doubtlessly confusing people who had come down for their Saturday night dinner. The confusion ratcheted up a few notches as Kirin ran out and hopped precariously atop some tables, delivering an acapella version of S.A.D. as the crowd circled him and sang along. It was beautiful and utterly absurd. Before the crowd could catch their breath he’d bounded back into the next room, launching into Good Enough as people filed back in. The Eurotrash synths and epilepsy lights were back in full force as Kirin milked his signature tune for all it was worth, taking the reins from Jimmy Barnes as he belted out those ear-piercing screams.
It was only fitting that he finished on another signature tune, The Toddler. It’s a glorious bit of audience back-and-forth, and definitely, the best song ever written about that golden period when you’ve started walking but are still shitting yourself. Kirin dismounted the stage and embraced his audience, welcomed with the frantic fervour of a prizefighter who’s just won the belt.
The crowd left not knowing whether this was more rock gig or magic show. A night of androgynous rock-god cabaret that won’t soon be forgotten.
Photos by Adrian Thomson