Arts Festival Review: Jenny MorrisReview by Amanda Mills
Pacific Blue Festival Club
13th March, 2010
Jenny Morris does not have a pretty voice. Powerful and strong (and she can still hit the high notes), its beauty comes from the clarity and sheer force, something that has not dimmed in her 30-year career, since the days of the Crocodiles, and their anthem Tears, most commonly heard on a ‘Nature’s Best’ compilation near you. Jenny Morris first came into my consciousness in 1991 when I was 15, and her album ‘Honeychild’ was a huge hit. It’s moments like these you remember, and with these moments in mind, I went along to see if Morris was still as good.
Saturday’s show at the Pacific Blue Club was an opportunity to hear Morris on home turf with a her four-piece Australian band, playing from throughout her back catalogue, with well known hits intermingled with lesser known tracks and re-interpretations. The most familiar of these re-interpreted songs was Break in the Weather, here re-imagined as a smoky, atmospheric number punctured by shards of guitar; the vocal melody the only recognisable element. The song was replayed later in the set with its original rock arrangement, and Morris invited the eager audience down to dance in front if the stage – which they did, giving the small area the ambience of an ageing disco.
While Morris relied on her own older work, she did include two covers, performed with energy and an obvious love for the originals – Billy Bragg’s The Price I Pay, and the Pretenders’ Message of Love, with Jenny stating that cover was a homage to her heroine, Chrissie Hynde, who, it must be said, she was channelling in both look and attitude.
With a little bitterness, Morris told the story of her mid-1990’s song In too Deep, (written by LA songwriter Rick Knowles), which was not a success for her, but was for Belinda Carslile, who covered it a year later (she told the audience that Carslile’s version ‘sucked’). Her performance of Paul Kelly’s (Beggar of the) Street of Love was overshadowed by her guitarist, whose ‘guitar-hero’ solo was far too loud in the mix. A spirited Body and Soul quietened down any demands for hits and was energetic and powerful, but again spoilt by a duelling solo between guitarist and the keyboardist.
One of the evening’s highlights was another reinterpretation, this time a stripped back, noir-western version of her earliest Australian hit Everywhere I Go, written and performed with her early 1980s band QED. Ending her set on You I Know, the band returned for the encore, with She Got To Be Loved, and Saved Me. However, there was no performance of Tears – something that one audience member behind me was annoyed about.
So: was she any good? Mostly, yes. Morris is an engaging performer, can still sing extremely well, and entertained her mostly middle-aged audience. While her band were no doubt talented, they tended to grab the spotlight, and their desire to enjoy themselves at the expense of good musicianship at times made them sound like a half-decent pub band. Jenny Morris is not an iconic New Zealand musician, but neither is she a ‘meat-and-potatoes’ artist, and her performance did not disappoint those who left with smiles on their faces.