The sound of Australia’s pop scene is as varied as its U.S. counterpart, even if it’s a considerably smaller population. From INXS’ pop tunes to Midnight Oil’s political harangues to the quasi-punk Hoodoo Gurus and Divinyls, not to mention the biggest garage rock scene in the world (with too many Iggy/MC5 imitators), Australia has a lively scene.
In Melbourne, the nation’s biggest city, a neo-singer/songwriter movement has been afoot for some time, spurred by the modest success of its native son, Paul Kelly.
Kelly brought the cream of the scene over to the states for the recently concluded South by Southwest conference, and stopped in Los Angeles on the way back to Oz.
Despite their roots, a love for the traditional singer/songwriter stance, the same hometown and the same backup band were the only similiarities among performers on this rather diffuse bill.
The show was led off by Archie Roach, an aborigine folkie whose tunes are based on a sense of losing one’s culture and language, a theme explored by fellow Aussie’s Midnight Oil on their international smash, “Beds Are Burning.” Roach, however, explores the theme from the inside looking out, as it were.
Roach is a ferociously intense man with a deep, rich, declamatory voice, and his songs began the evening on a sombre note, particularly on the mordant “Walking Into Doors” and “Took Away Paradise.”
He was followed by the lighter folkie pop of Deborah Conway, who did a trio of pretty, ’60s-ish numbers. Pleasant and likeable — but definitely a throwback to female singer stereotypes of the early ’70s — Conway could find herself a big star on VH-1.
That could not be said of Chris Wilson, a session harmonica player in Australia, and his Little Walter-style harp playing, as well as his roaring baritone and loutish demeanor, made him the evening’s highlight, even if his tunes were a trifle cliched.