Mikelangelo & the Black Sea GentlemenReviewed by Alison Little
the Black Sea Gentlemen
24 Feb, 9:00pm
25 Feb, 10:30pm
26 Feb, 10:30pm
Duration: approx 2 hours, including an intermission
Venue: The National Bank Festival Club, Waitangi Park, corner of Chaffers Street and Cable street, Central Wellington
Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentlemen put on a fine foot-stomping, laugh out loud and go home humming sort of show.
Mikelangelo (vocals and guitar) looks like a lounge-lizard Elvis wannabe (except for the waistcoat and sombrero), and speaks with the sonorousness of the Devil in a medieval morality play. He also sings in deliciously deep deep dark rich tones, as he hams it up with the Black Sea Gentlemen for an excellent evening’s entertainment.
There are four Gentleman; Guido Libido (accordion), The Great Muldovio (clarinet), Rufino (violin) and Ruprecht (contrabass). Each has a persona, with a backstory that is revealed over the course of the evening, and their various talents are all given space to shine. Ruprecht’s Orlando Bloomish posing is perfect when he takes the vocal lead, wandering to the bar for a drink as he sings of his tragic incompetence in love. Rufino’s elastic smile shows far too many teeth as he attacks his violin and cavorts with maniac energy. The Great Muldovio declaims his tragic past in a fireside tale, and does some very unusual things with his clarinet. Morose Guidio’s spoon playing in the spaghetti-Western tribute is a definite highlight.
Musically the dominant style is Gyspsy-esq, with a hint of Tom Waits and a taint of Nick Cave, rich layers of sound, and ludicrously angst-ridden lyrics. The comedy of the show is often in the contrast between a catchy tune and those dark lyrics, I left humming a refrain that included the line "human flesh . . . it’s not just for cannibals". At other times, the tunes to are self-consciously - self-parodyingly - dark, as in the lovely "A Minor Day" which explores the relationship between mood and music, and irritating neighbours who mow lawns.
Mikelangelo’s dark tones and cheerful angst invite comparison with Nick Cave - if Nick Cave were to do musical comedy - or perhaps the Nightmare Before Christmas’s Jack Skellington - if he was to start playing bluegrass gypsy folk waltz tango polka. These guys take their music seriously, even (especially) when it is at its silliest. The show is put together with skill that makes it all look effortless, the simple staging emphasises the music, and clever use is made of lighting.
Finally, a brief warning about the venue. Although the Festival Club tent is utterly exquisite, and the perfect setting style-wise for Mikelangelo and co's show, don’t be late getting there. If you are, you may find yourself in one of the booth-style tables fanned around the edge of the room. Inevitably many of these seats face away from the stage, and you risk sitting for several hours with your spine twisted through 90 degrees or so in order to see the show. You will sit that way, because you won’t want to miss a minute, but an unfortunate consequence will be a painful sideways gait that lingers for some hours.
But despite the pain, I enjoyed it all so much I bought the CD, which the stars sell out of a suitcase at the back after the show. The group’s website, http://www.oninvisiblewings.com/bsg/black_sea_01.html has some samples for your delectation.