Review: SPIRE Ensemble – Stand by your Woman

Stand By Your Woman

[Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne/Sunday 17th September 2018]

“People want to hear good music, and that’s what this night is going to be,” promised Xani Kolac in the promotional video for Stand By Your Woman. As its Music Director for the second year running, she well and truly delivered.

Xani Kolac | Photo: Kevin Peterson

Held in the acoustically-sublime Hamer Hall, Stand By Your Woman was a wonderful opportunity to catch some of the country’s finest instrumentalists and vocalists under one roof, performing unique arrangements of some of their favourite songs, as well as their own compositions, on a stage that did them justice.

The fourteen-piece SPIRE ensemble comprising horns, strings, electric bass and guitar, drums, keys and backing vocals seemed to effortlessly cross genres throughout the evening. No charts, no sheets – from memory these talented musicians exuberantly delivered a diverse two sets of opera, rock, pop, folk, funk, RnB, hip-hop, blues, classical, experimental and soul arrangements. The only major genre absence was jazz.

Claire Cross | Photo: Kevin Peterson

With Kate Ceberano on the guest artist line-up, it was easy to assume otherwise. Ceberano needs no introduction, with an outstanding career spanning a multitude of genres, including jazz. But hearing her honour the late Chrissy Amphlett with a pared back arrangement of ‘I Touch Myself’ was something else. She nailed it. And then she rocked out on the drums – a drummer too, who knew?

Kathleen Halloran, Claire Cross and Xani Kolac | Photo: Kevin Peterson

It was sheer joy watching her and the entire ensemble throughout the night clearly having so much fun on stage.

Rebecca Barnard might be more familiar to readers for her family’s jazz legacy, but her original compositions lean more towards melodic dream-pop. After performing a song by Joni Mitchell, one of the great women who inspire her, Barnard shared her own gorgeous song ‘We Are Loved’ from her 2010 album Everlasting.

Shauntai Batzke | Photo: Kevin Peterson

The impressive list of guest vocalists included soprano Shauntai Batzke, who opened the set with ‘Babirra Nyiwarri’ (‘Sing Darling’) sung in Wiradjuri. It was an utter privilege to witness. Batzke’s emotive lyrics were sublimely enhanced by Xani Kolac’s original composition, mostly comprising Kolac’s violin and Biddy Connor on viola, Anita Quayle’s delicate cello, and Evangeline Victoria also on violin.

Alex Roper | Photo: Kevin Peterson

The string and horn sections downed instruments to provide the vocal choir for Mojo Juju‘s powerful delivery of her outstanding recent release, ‘Native Tongue’. That stunning song has been ear-worming this writer for over a month – it’s anthemic.

Thando followed up a soulful interpretation of the Foo Fighter’s ‘These Days’ with her R&B original called ‘Naked’, arranged by alto saxophonist Cheryl Duronpisitkul who switched to flute to add some seventies spice to this super sexy number. Move over Marvin and Barry, Thando has arrived!

Clare Bowditch | Photo: Kevin Peterson

Other guest vocalists were soulful Saskwatch vocalist Nikechi Anele, the audience-engaging Clare Bowditch, Melbourne hip-hop artist Mantra, Powderfinger guitarist and solo performer Darren Middleton, and the harmonious comedy of Tripod.

Yep, you read it right. Of course men were included in the line-up for this superb celebration of local talent. Stand By Your Woman wasn’t about gender exclusivity. It was about great music and that’s definitely worth celebrating.