Take a turn on the dark side…

By Bradley Storer

Beginning the performance with a simple booming ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen!’, the manically energetic Joe Black, making an immediate impression with his ghoulishly glittery face, barrelled onstage and launched into a song by fellow British cabaret artists Fascinating Aida, a spritely ditty about the pleasures of public fornication. This off-colour but hilarious opener set the tone for the rest of the evening, straddling the line between comedy and darkness expertly.

This is not an evening for the faint-hearted: subjects range from the joys of pyromania to the exploits of a heart-broken cannibal. Black covers many classics of the dark cabaret scene, including songs by the Tiger Lillies, Tom Waits and the Dresden Dolls, as well as original compositions discussing topics such as friends who ‘overshare’ on social networking sites. There are also more popular songs (Black’s Britney Spears cover is a particular delight), layered with a sinister twist – let’s just say I’ll never hear ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in quite the same way again.

Joe Black himself is charmingly demented. A musical and vocal chameleon, he swaps between piano and ukulele skilfully (which makes one regretful about his inability to smuggle his accordion past customs) and his voice switches at different times from a politely soft-spoken tenor, to a devilishly seductive Tom Waits-style croon, to a gospel-inflected roar reminiscent of Jason Webley.

The show itself still seems in development – segues between songs and the overall structure felt muddled, with connections in story not being as clearly developed as they could be. To be fair, this was probably not helped by Black’s admitted jet-lag or having to deal with an unusually talkative audience who interjected continually without warning – however this just goes to show, despite the darkness of his persona, how approachable Black made himself appear and how relaxed he had made his audience.

Despite some opening night glitches and some polishing still be done, Black is clearly a true cabaret performer, delivering a professional performance and forging such a strong connection with his audience that they spontaneously demanded a second encore – a rare sight! Such an enthusiastic response bodes well for the rest of Black’s first season in Australia, with the show undoubtedly growing even stronger with more performances.  

Until Nov 27th at The Butterfly Club

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