Hugo Race + Sacri Cuori + Carla Lippis
The Metropolitan Hotel, Adelaide - September 27, 2013
Tonight was a passionate night of balance, power, and space. Each group told us stories, ran films in our heads.
The streets are empty. Empty as in, it's Tuesday night. Except it's Friday night. Where is everyone?
Just the previous night, the suburbs decanted some 10,000 to land like a torrent of ants in Adelaide's great dome of the popular people's front to see Rihanna, who is, I am told, a superstar. From overseas.
No matter that I've never heard of her. Mainstream radio, with its insistence on playing songs to provide a bland background for the exciting adverts, has a lot to answer for, as do the rave and party generation who, for over a decade preferred cover bands and forgettable e-induced dance instead of seeking out the talented and magical who will stay with you forever. Have you noticed how bloody boring ABC's Rage has become over the last ... fifteen years or so? They'd have to pay me to watch it, and it would have to be large.
Tonight, barely 40 turned out to see four Italians and an Australian. From overseas, and who've driven over from Melbourne, presumably in a van smelling like (apologies to RD) the inside of a packet of dry roasted peanuts. No matter that the ten thousand have never heard of them. Bands come through all the time. And so the ten thousand stayed at home.
You get the picture. Tonight I was told that booking agents don't put much effort into promoting small shows like this. If that's the case, I wish there were booking agents who cared about the music and the performers just as much as they care about money. I mean, these five blokes will probably be in debt by the time they get home.
This Rihanna, good luck to her. I suppose.
Adelaidean Carla Lippis plays acoustic guitar, has another acoustic player to her left and a really quite extraordinary electric guitar player to her right. They're The Martial Hearts. Carla has a big powerful voice and the trio of guitars surge and wash back, giving her just the right spaces to push out her vocals. We're somewhere between the lyric loneliness of country and western and the Italian love ballad, with a strange 'southern' (ie, US) accent.
The young chap with the haircut apparently plays in several other bands, and tonight he simply gets on with it, an effortless technique showing great skill. Tinged with country's lament and heavily rouged with bastard surf guitar, Carla is passionate, literate and we walk with her along a yearning road... She has an ep out http://themartialhearts.bandcamp.com/
Sacri Cuori are everything you never expected but should have from an Italian band. They live near Rimini, so their surf twang is tinged with multiple emotions. The waves aren't high enough; they're frustrated, or angry, or sad. They remind me of film noir, dangerous love in black and white which turns to colour. The first response of several around me is Sergio Morricone - I tell you, that's wrong. The Italians made westerns in their own land because they identified so strongly with the villains, the poverty, the badlands ... and the western must've seemed like what happened to Uncle Carlo that time when... I mean, they even look like they've just stepped down from the hills, luparas in hand... and they look... villainous. Film directors should take one look at Sacri Cuori and hire them and build their films around them.
Of course Sacri Cuori are a playful, romantic noir delight, baritone sax nicely offsetting the bass and the heavily adjusted guitar (it looks beautiful). And I must say their drummer is the most expressive I've seen in years. Superb control, use of space, time. Uses every part of the kit most specifically, used a variety of sticks and rattles ... even had a large necklace of what looked like varnished frenchman's ears... but that couldn't be right. They have two lps out, Rosario and Douglas and Dawn; your collection needs them in a way you wouldn't believe. http://www.sacricuori.com/ Hundreds of people here flocked to see Sergio Morricone a year or so ago; thousands more have his records.
I venture to suggest that Sacri Cuori are, if not superior in several ways (they're more romantic for one thing), then they are at the very least real and approachable. Sacri Cuori are also Hugo's backing band; after a decent few minutes interval, they take the stage and, after a few pedal problems, a very different band is onstage, the Sacris dialling back and letting Hugo come to the fore.
And I haven't seen such drama, such restrained passion in a long while. It's a huge, huge sound. Takes you in, won't let go, you forget time, time speeds up and slows down in the same instant. We're captured. Hugo's songs are carefully structured, clever, yet innocent. As he performs, Hugo is many things all at once: you can see the young boy, the young man, the older man, his father. And there's huge pain in there as well, catastrophic, as well as more simple tales of people he's met. Most of the set tonight comes from his current cd, We Never Had Control, there's a handful from Fatalists.
Although Hugo is predominantly confessional (that lush warm timbre of his, you could happily drown in it) he's not up there having a tantrum, or 'bunging on an act'. It's like he's tapped a seam and all this potch comes falling out, sprinkled with burning opal in his light. It's natural, it's part of him and it does not look easy at all, and he works hard. Noir without the mannerisms. He concentrates on telling the stories, explaining, wanting us to understand. He looks pleased at the small crowd's response, though, and even more so when we wake from our hypnotised state and roar and bellow for an encore. He gives us a rather wonderful cover of Romeo Void's Never Say Never and Will You Wake Up.
Lazy comparisons are Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard and Leonard Cohen. They're lazy because Hugo is so much his own man, he's obviously not using anyone for a springboard except himself - his songs, demeanour, his manner of expression are all the result of decades of work - his own.
Afterwards, he is patient and kind to the few who come up to shake his hand. I think he's one of the most courageous men I've seen on stage in a long while. He looks very tired, and he could have easily buggered off into the night, but it simply doesn't occur to him.
Hugo website is www.hugoracemusic.com and his new LP is We Never Had Control, but there's room in your wallet to buy at least four more to make up for your not going to see him.
If you've not seen Hugo live, and you've missed him this tour, you'll have to get on a plane. He's that good.
Each band tonight told us stories, ran thrilling romantic noir films in our heads, unspooled themselves in front of us like silk. Each band tonight were world-class. Hugo Race is a major, major talent. Why he, or Sacri Cuori as well, aren't being paid a fortune to provide songs for westerns and thrillers I could not tell you. Why Carla Lippis isn't emptying the suburbs either, I don't know.
What happened to the other thousands of people who clutter up the place on Friday nights, well, I couldn't tell you that either.