Watching and listening to Ed Kuepper and his band at the Theatre Royal on a wet and windy night in Hobart is the sonic equivalent of watching a murmuration of Starlings in flight. The band swoop in close formation across the sonic landscape before turning perfectly altogether in the opposite direction, ascending, descending, circling and twisting in perfect unison. The sonic architecture is awe-inspiring – building up from a single note into an orchestration that belies the number of musicians on stage. Indeed later after the gig, Kuepper joked that such were the vagaries of the sound in the old theatre, there were unintended sonic layers in the mix – a sum greater than the parts. Kuepper was politely ignoring the fact that when he plays a guitar, it is like an orchestra in itself.
This was a mesmerising performance with Kuepper’s band, containing decades of experience, delivering a thrilling set that was like a greatest hits collection. Celebrating the release on vinyl of two of his solo albums (‘Honey Steel’s Gold’ and ‘Electrical Storm’), Kuepper solo work is a brilliant mix of the esoteric, jazz, psychedelic and absolute unadorned commercial pop – sometimes all within one song.
The rendition of the final song in the main set, ‘Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You’ was a case in point – Kuepper encouraged audience participation in belting out the chorus with lighted cameras waving across the theatre – the stadium filling singing was moving and euphoric. To be honest – not the kind of thing you would expect from a musician as serious and intense as Kuepper. But then again, his entire performance was laced with wry humour and witty banter. It is also indicative of Kuepper’s songwriting prowess – unadulterated romanticism in the lyrics and a melody so catchy and infectious there should be a health warning and masks attached.
‘Honey Steel’s Gold’ was absolutely magnificent – starting from sequenced single note, building up momentum to become a raging, imperious tornado carried by Kuepper’s brilliant guitar work that almost burned the fretboard and our retinas. ‘Electrical Storm’ was transcendental – always somehow creating onomatopoeic sounds from the guitar that recall the tropical thunderstorms of Queensland with a high voltage delivery – or was that the aforementioned vagaries of the theatre’s sound system? ‘Rainy Night’ had a jazz-inflected subtlety while ‘Spartan Spiritual’ a brittle delicacy and ‘All Of These Things’ a stately presence.
Kuepper joked about his impact on the fall of the Berlin wall and recounted how with the classic ‘Also Sprach the King of Euro-Disco’ he not only dredged up disco from the past but invented rave culture before its time, before launching into the pulse quickening track with passion and gusto.
The sound in the old theatre was impeccable and the surrounding fittingly magisterial.
It’s at this point it is worth highlighting the amazing musicians Kuepper has brought with him on tour.
Trumpet player Eamon Dilworth ( Happenings trumpeter and vocalist in Eamon Dilworth’s Crawfish Po’Boys) was mesmerising – he sounded at times like an entire horn section and his performance was thrilling and dynamic, adding a burnish to the sound. Pianist/organist Dr Alistair Spence is a reputed composer in his own right and he highlighted the delicacy and riffs at the heart of many of Kuepper’s songs. Drummer Mark Dawson is a titan in the music scene, playing with many iconic bands such as The Blackeyed Susans and Ron S Peno and the Superstitions. His performance was stunning – and incredibly nuanced given the sometimes tricky time signatures Kuepper uses in his songs. Finally there is Peter Oxley on bass. Who is simply just Peter Oxley (or Sweet Pete as Kuepper called him) from Sunnyboys – little more needs to be said. It was slightly discombobulating to see him on stage – an unique and enigmatic presence. But beyond that, his bass playing was incredible important – the delicacy of the bass line in the delectable ballad ‘Sea Air’ was exquisite. Kuepper alleges this song was written about the Derwent River entering the oceans off Hobart.
The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper was an apt title for a magnificent performance that did indeed blow the mind. Kuepper’s songwriting prowess is made abundantly clear, as his ability to coax together a stunning array of musicians to deliver his universe to the lucky audience. At the beginning of the set, Kuepper explained that the band were already exhausted. After the gig, the band recounted that they had been on the road since 5 am that morning travelling from Adelaide to get to the gig – one of the many reasons it is so hard to get bands to make the trip to Hobart. But you couldn’t tell from the performance – it was really quite an electrical storm and one of the best gigs I’ve seen this year. Kuepper’s final remarks as he left the stage? ‘Don’t let those shits win, vote Yes’, getting a universal supportive response from the audience. What a legend.
King of Vice
Not a Soul Around
Little Fiddle (and the Ghost of Xmas Past)
Honey Steel’s Gold
Also Sprach the King of Euro-Disco
All of These Things
Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You
The Way I Made You Feel
Photographs: Arun Kendall