This is a difficult review for me to write. The consequences of me shooting my mouth off with unbridled honesty in conversation are different to those involved when committing words to text.
First, let me say how much I like the Spiegeltent. It’s such a great venue. There’s a sense of history to it, it’s structurally sound, and the stage crew and bar staff really do a tremendous job. Here’s a photo:
Now, where were we? Ah, The Suitcase Royale. Such a great name. Their marketing blurb was quite enticing, and the photo they gave the press looked like it could have come from a very entertaining show. Rumour has it these guys put together some brilliant theatre productions and are actually quite funny. I’m a bit confused why they’d risk tainting their good name with what they did last night though.
Rather than gamble your reputation as quality entertainers with a musical experiment, it might have been a good idea for these guys to use a different name, because I’m going to have a hard time shaking the associations of last night’s performance from any future Suitcase gigs.
Here’s another photo!
Granted, a Monday night gig is bound to have a different energy to a weekend show. People are back at work, the energy is somewhat muted in the crowd…and I was more than prepared to give these guys concessions if the audience wasn’t really up for dancing, or the jokes weren’t going as well as they might have hoped. But that would have required some solid material on their part.
Not being familiar with The Suitcase Royale in a theatre context or a musical one, I was not sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure if they were comedians having a go at music, or the other way around. After about six songs, I still wasn’t sure.
The formulaic folk-by-numbers arrangements for every track gave me the strong impression these guys are not about being musically innovative in any way. That’s fine, as it leaves ample room for the lyrics to be clever, interesting, funny, or at least in some way compelling.
There’s nothing wrong with tired musical wallpaper being a foundation for well-written lyrics. Sadly, that option was also left apparently unexplored. Vocally, it was a repetitive drawl of mostly unintelligible cliches rendered in the style of Nick Cave meets Alf from Home & Away.
The only remaining space for some genuine entertainment, save a natural disaster or sudden blackout, was the banter between songs. The guys did make reference to a show of theirs about zombie wombats, called ‘zombats’, which sounded like it could have been quite funny, as opposed to everything they presented last night.
In addition to a pointless anecdote about being charged for extra luggage when flying Qantas, there was a running gag about their CD price starting at $10 and gradually increasing as the show progressed. This was funny for the wrong reasons. I’m really sorry, but honestly I wouldn’t have accepted a free one.
I can’t remember another show that I’ve actually walked out of, and I felt genuine sympathy for anybody who paid full price for a ticket. This kind of performance might have a place in an open festival. I can certainly imagine people walking past stopping for a song or two, or possibly even dancing if they were sufficiently intoxicated or liked predictable trite folk music.
However this approach relies on riding the wave of a larger event, where the work has been done for you, the crowd is primed, and so long as your drummer keeps in time nobody is going to care too much about musical laziness or lack of lyrical depth.
The good: Great venue. Friendly door staff. Animated and energetic drummer. Double bass player did well to hold up such an unwieldy instrument.
The bad: The remainder.