Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tim Minchin and his Orchestra, Live at the O2

When Tim Minchin wrote "Nothing ruins comedy like arenas" he didn't just stumble across the perfect line to open a comedy arena show, but also the perfect line to open any review/blog/bit of writing about it. So, thanks Tim. I'm In A Cage - the song from which this uber-self-aware lyric comes - is an ironic screw you to his audience now that he's 'quite famous' (as he puts it), and sees comedy's rockingest star dance in a cage while singing about hanging out in trendy bars, flogging DVDs, and drinking himself to death in the Four Seasons.

The reason Minchin can do this song without the possibility of being accused of hypocrisy is that he has done everything within his talents and power to make this a show that not only works in an arena, but couldn't work anywhere else. When Ricky Gervais records a 'thank you' message for some British award ceremony saying he's too big to bother coming these days, the joke is undermined by the fact that he genuinely hasn't come - Minchin, on the other hand, has got a 55-piece orchestra on board, and written massive songs that need them. The idea that he doesn't care about his audience any more is laughable.

And despite the fact that Minchin has also written an insanely (but absolutely deservedly) well-reviewed musical in Matilda this year, there are seven new songs in this show. Tim treads his favoured ground in Thank You God, a track which expertly and relentlessly picks apart the idea of the power of prayer, belittling the apparent 'miracle' of a white Australian woman's improved sight through repeating the banal line 'Thank you God for fixing the cataracts of Sam's mum', and contrasting it against the sum total of global human suffering which God seems less anxious to remedy.

Then there's Cont, one of those 'oooh, you're a clever so-and-so' Minchin songs that it would be churlish to reveal too much about (but sounds like it's from the most insane musical ever), and a joyous disco coda to Pope Song; "I don't really know what that's about" he says of the added section, "but it makes me happy". Plus - perhaps to some people's surprise - there's a pop song (with a chorus and everything) in defence of taking a nuanced and ambivalent view of things, and the deceptively gorgeous, waltzing Lullabye about a baby that just won't go to sleep.

And pushing into the 'really not a comedy song at all' territory is Beauty, which seems to be a deeply personal song about the struggle between giving the audience the ire and satire they expect and being seduced by the 'easy lay' of a beautiful melody. The fact that this song just happens to boast one of the most beautiful melodies Minchin has ever written suggests he's perfectly willing to succumb to her charms every once in a while. Of the older songs that feature in this show, it's great to hear Rock 'n' Roll Nerd with the Ben Folds-esque drums and bass for which you suspect it may have been originally conceived, but it is the ballads You Grew On Me and Not Perfect that - with an orchestra behind them - are genuinely better than they've ever been.

Throw in a keytar, eulogies to cheese, perfectly pitched orchestrations and the Ko'ran and you have a show that proves that arenas don't necessarily ruin comedy; in the end, an arena comedy show's success - as with everything in stand-up - depends on one thing and one thing alone, it's all down to guy with the mic. And this guy's pretty darn good.


Anonymous said...

Another great review,Anna .Sounds like a fabulous show.Nice to see a songwriter/comedian match the move to a large arena with a hugely enhanced show.Definitely not the easy option.

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chatterbox said...

We all went to see this on Tuesday as a family outing for my Mum's 70th birthday, and it was perfect, although too short... I keep thinking about the other songs I would have loved to have seen given the orchestral treatment.

Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...

Oh I'd love to see them all with orchestrations I think! If you have a tenner going spare I would certainly recommend downloading the O2 album ( I promise you the new songs are even better than you remember :)

howlie, said...

Lovely review Anna, i've only just got around to reading it. Oh, and it's Qu'ran but pronounced Ko'ran :) The uses of having a muslim friend at uni.

Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...

Thanks Misha. Yeah, probably shouldn't have used the Anglicised version!