June 01, 1994

Alive and Brilliant

Filed under: Archive,Music

Deborah Conway
Norwood Town Hall

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

With the solo albums, String of Pearls and last year’s Bitch Epic, Deborah Conway has been proving that, sponsorship from Poppy notwithstanding, she is more than a pretty lip gloss. Since leaving the fabled Do Re Mi she has moved up the octave with fruitful collaborations with Richard Pleasance, Paul Kelly and most recently, guitarist Willy Zygier.

Surrounded by her band, the Mothers of Pearl, the quartet Strings of Pearl, percussionist Paul Edzell and back-up singer Tina Kopa, Deborah Conway recently wound up her Epic Theatre tour in Adelaide. After a series of pub engagements Conway has been playing theatres with a crisp, stylish stage show reminiscent of smoothies like Joe Jackson. Epic Theatre, she disarmingly informs us, recalls Sunday afternoons in Melbourne- when, after the roast and the World of Sport, came the gladiator movies and the sword and sandal dramas of the Epic Theatre.

Opening with synth and string fanfares the band found splendid accord in the rallying choruses of Alive and Brilliant. Conway began as she meant to continue- in confident voice and with a stage presence that you might call, well, theatrical. In variously coloured Mao suits the ensemble have a carefully considered dash about them. But Conway, the former Southern Comfort girl with her hair fetchingly awry, is nobody’s object. In charge, and in touch with an enthusiastic audience, she is very much the emancipated woman. She raises the temperature with I’m Not Satisfied and sings a rich, sinewy version of String of Pearls, guitar at first and extending to the full band. Then more from the same album -Buried Treasure, a boppy take of It’s Only the Beginning, a bluesy version of Only Girl- smoky vocals and tasty guitar from Zygier – and an achy reading of White Roses, with quartet strings tugging the heart and a lambent trombone solo from the versatile keyboards player.

In blonde wig and padded-up gold lame, Conway out-Basseys Shirley with the full-throttle kitsch of Goldfinger and then emerges -“Silk worm to cabbage moth” in a white muslin shift for the jazzy, Joni-influenced Madame Butterfly’s in Trouble. You are reminded how many first-rate songs Deborah Conway has written when she moves from the defiant Now That We Are Apart to the hand-in-glove melody of She Prefers Fire and the classic pop cadences of Today I’m a Daisy.

For the encore it has to be Man Overboard, that perfect capsule of Eighties pop. And then the band, on all cylinders, for Holes in the Road. Conway closed with an extended account of Under My Skin, song of co-dependence- I’m just a girl who can’t say nuh,nuh- but in its soaring rock vocal, also a song of triumph. The band peeled off one by one, down to the last rattle of percussion and stage blackout. Deborah Conway’s epic concert is smart, funny and musically well-judged. A gem you might call it. Or a string of pearls.

The Adelaide Review, No.128, June, 1994, p.32.

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