December 01, 1997

String of Pearls

Filed under: Archive,Music


Deborah Conway

Governor Hindmarsh

November, 1997.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The Spring 1997 performances by Deborah Conway might well be called the Great With Child Tour. Certainly, the singer- on the road with a band featuring her creative and procreative partner, Willie Zygier- is in very full bloom.

Resplendent in a spangled red dress, Conway puckers her poppy lips and rattles earrings the size of chandeliers. But there is nothing garish here. Deborah Conway is not only one of the best singer songwriters in the country, she has Style. Buckets of it. And none of it extinguishable.

Tilting slightly to balance the motherload, Conway beams at the Governor Hindmarsh crowd. Her dark hair is tied back, leaving her face framed by those familiar bouncy bangs. She is, as ever, the very model of the emancipated Australian woman. Devotees draw near. One huge, bashful gallant, looking like a bouncer on his night off, presents her with a bouquet- and, crikey… booties. The diva is regal and acknowledging. Several photographers close in with lenses set to steal her very soul. She frowns and pouts her way through the opener – a track from the newly released My Third Husband album, All of the Above.

The band feeds in a mix of samples and woozy riffs.  Clayton Foley on keyboards spreads out a tonal wash, while Jack Orszaczky lays some bony bass lines and Zygier hunches over his guitar intently supplying his particular modal magic. The new album, written and recorded in London,  has come in for some flak for its heavily produced sound. All that programming and techno tinkering apparently isn’t our Deborah. I can’t help thinking some of the CD reviews written on the strength of half a listen would read rather differently by now. As in all good relationships, Deborah Conway’s Third Husband takes a little getting to know.

The live show showcases the material well. The arrangements are lean and mostly real time. The single, Only the Bones (Will Show) sounds better than ever, as do the chugging rhythms and dreamy vocals on Everything You Want It to Be. The crowd responds strongly to a shift to more familiar turf. Alive and Brilliant creates a hush as does that other bitch epic, Madame Butterfly is in Trouble. And that opens the way for a knockout reading of the new song Here in My Arms. Conway has now put aside her acoustic guitar to reveal the full glories of her sparkling gown – a heart-shaped see-through panel revealing her abundantly gravid belly. Swaying to Zygier’s gently swooning guitar, Conway re-ignites  the art of torch singing.

The new work also has its dark aspect, particularly the edgy Feathers in My Mouth,  which only lends emphasis to the perky familiarity of Today I’m a Daisy and Release Me before returning to the densely synthesised gothics of It’s a Girl Thing. The band then pulls out the stops  to close with that Do Re Mi classic of maritime misadventure, Man Overboard.

An encore is also a costume change in the Deb Conway Theatre. Elegant in white sleeveless cotton, the singer sings a solo String of Pearls and the band files back to remake It’s Only the Beginning. The show, crisply produced and smartly imagined, reveals Conway is still out there with our very best inscribers of the beating heart. Her voice, whether crooning the simple lyricism ofWhite Roses or the tangled histrionics of It’s Only a Dream , has never sounded better and her stage presence is as well-judged as ever. The musical partnership with Zygier has led Deborah Conway to new and interesting ground. But the latest material is proof that none of the fundamentals have changed. She still prefers fire.

The Adelaide Review, No.171, December, 1997, pp. 32-3.

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