LIVE REVIEW: SARAH BLASKO @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (17.02.2013)

Sarah-Blasko

Sarah Blasko’s Sydney Opera House show was not her debut at this iconic venue. But it was her first time performing there with an orchestra in tow. Her latest album, I Awake features a newer, “full” sound. It’s one she’s described as having given her all. While recording, she got the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra to create an avalanche of sound and something she described as: soaring, shrieking, simple and striking. And that describes this show to a tee.

In her hometown, Sarah Blasko was accompanied by the Sydney International Orchestra and her own four-piece band of local and international musicians. This proved an excellent marriage between her different musical styles plus the general emotion and substance that typifies her music. Wearing a long black maxi skirt and an elegant black top Blasko looked at least a decade younger as she sashayed on stage. But the audience weren’t fooled by appearances, as the maturity and depth of her experiences soon shone through with the music.

“[Explain]” started things with a dramatic turn. Blasko’s voice was positively gorgeous. You could hear a pin drop as her delicate, doll-like silhouette was splashed behind her and framed by a spotlight. She acted bold with soaring vocals and when she took moments away from singing the lyrics, she used another microphone to create her own breathy tones that were just enchanting.

This same voice was also the centrepiece in “All I Want”. On her record a musical saw drove the proceedings, but tonight it was all about spine-chilling strings, rainbow lights and of course, Blasko’s own melodic, resonant and vivid vocals. It was resplendent in conveying the right sense of heartbreak, anguish and confusion. Her voice was often like a majestic, musical instrument all of its own.

Initially, the lovely lady drew heavily from her previous album, As Day Follows Night with “Bird on a Wire” being a fun, sexy-pop number. It was during this that Blasko seemed to resemble Blondie’s Deborah Harry because you couldn’t take your eyes off her. She sang like a sweet songbird but she pulled out a mixed bag of dance moves that ranged from some clunky and awkward ones inspired by Harry to an almost spiritual and reverential interpretative dance.

The backing band was also an amazing force. The Devoted Few’s Ben Fletcher was the expert multi-instrumentalist switching between guitars, keyboard and additional percussive instruments. The rhythm section from the latest record, i.e. David Symes and Fredrik Rundqvist offered a fluid groove that complimented Blasko and the orchestra, while David Hunt’s keys glistened and soared in equal measure.

There was the melancholy, “Sleeper Awake” before the musicians performed the entire I Awake album in full. These cuts included the almost primal and stomping tittle track to some full cinema-scope inspired sound in the lush, “An Arrow”. The album is certainly Blasko’s magnum opus. She is like the enchantress stripped bare, unleashing raw emotions from her heart and soul alongside her experience in a foreign land (“Bury This”). There was also the softer and more personal love songs and balladry with “All Of Me”.

“Here” was a slow-burner that was built up from a quiet hush to a loud, orchestral affair. The addition of the extra musicians on most of these tracks – but this one in particular – was just like watching a video change from black and white to full Technicolour (think like the Wizard of Oz). The album also offers this, but when it’s performed live you feel like every particle of blood, sweet and tears pours through.

The material really resonated with the crowd so naturally we welcomed Blasko back for an encore. She obliged us with the final two LP tracks. “An Oyster, A Pearl” was especially sentimental because she played this at the piano and dedicated it to her niece and sister who were also present at the show. She had joked that she felt like she was about to play a piano recital and the performance shared a lot in common with Regina Spektor before proceedings closed with the chiming, “Not Yet”.

Sarah Blasko received a standing ovation for her wonderful, Sydney Opera House show. It had been so personal, relatable and feeling while also cerebral and clever. There had been some tear-inducing moments but Blasko’s divine beauty in every sense of the word shone through. She had managed to get inside the hearts and minds of everyone in the audience and embrace us in the warmest of hugs.

Sarah Blasko’s set list:
1. [Explain]
2. All I Want
3. Bird On A Wire
4. Lost & Defeated
5. No Turning Back
6. Sleeper Awake
7. I Awake
8. An Arrow
9. Bury This
10. God-Fearing
11. All Of Me
12. New Country
13. Here
14. Illusory Light
15. Fool
16. Cast The Net
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17. An Oyster, A Pearl
18. Not Yet

Originally published on 20 February 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sarah-blasko-sydney-opera-house-17-02-13

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BOOK REVIEW: MICHELLE BRIDGES – YOUR BEST BODY

bridges book

For many people, keeping their weight under control and making exercise a regular occurrence is often thrown into the “too hard basket”. The Biggest Loser trainer, Michelle Bridges knows all too well about this. The author of six health and fitness books should be left with nothing more to say about these issues. But her latest work, Your Best Body looks set to become as popular as her previous books, Losing the Last Five Kilos, Crunch Time and the No Excuses Cookbook.

In Your Best Body Bridges adopts a holistic approach. She says it’s not just about diet and exercise; it’s about re-empowering people to seize control. This involves adopting the best thinking processes, completing the best training and accompanying this with the right diet to ultimately get those coveted “slammin’ shoulders”, a tight mid-section and “shapely legs”. It all sounds great on an aesthetic level but there are also the added health benefits. She also keeps things simple by recommending that you track your progress with just two sets of numbers- your waist measurement and blood pressure.

Bridges has heard every excuse in the book. She’s worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor for over two decades and she got her first taste of this world when she ran fitness classes at her own high school. Perhaps as a result of this experience, she teaches us first and foremost to change your mind-set. You should look at your body as being “perfect” (no matter if it’s 10 or 20+ kilos overweight). She describes the body as an enduring and efficient mechanism that is only in part determined by genetics and one that responds well to changes to routine with time.

The book is a quick but interesting read. There will be some things you already know, other things people should know (but perhaps ignore) and some important new ideas and thoughts. She focuses first and foremost on thinking better and steering clear of negativity or beating yourself up (over not sticking to new year’s resolutions and diet plans, to ultimately show that gradual, progressive improvements will lead to more successful long-term results.

In addition to the section dedicated to psychology and thought processes are stories from some of the people she’s helped. There is also an extensive section about training. It is here that cardio and weight-training exercises are described in detail and accompanied by useful photographs. Bridges also gives us a two-week sample program and an example of an exercise logbook. The former is a one-size-fits-all approach that may not suit all fitness levels but it should give people something they can build towards.

The final section of Your Best Body is dedicated to information about food and nutrients, including Michelle’s own list of superfoods and recipes. To qualify as a superfood in Michelle’s mind, it had to be readily available, naturally low in calories, inexpensive and have its nutrition claims adequately backed up. Most of these superfoods are naturally fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, but some types of meat and fish are also included.

The recipes are generally accompanied by large, full-page photographs which show off all of the colourful and tasty ingredients. There is a simple sardine salad sandwich, baked apples and a tomato, and mushroom and parsley Bruschetta for novice chefs. Some more advanced options include a red prawn curry, baked dessert ricotta, Chinese steamed whole whiting and a beef and silver beet stir-fry. The cooking and preparation times range from just five minutes to over two and a half hours.

It seems like the health and fitness brigade may have been fighting a losing battle against obesity and inactivity for some time. But Michelle Bridges is just one individual that’s on a crusade to get people fitter and healthier than ever before. Your Best Body contains the useful and fundamental building blocks to help train and re-program your thinking and to shake-up your daily routine. The holistic approach offers handy tools that are vital to know and to incorporate into daily life. And as Bridges says, your body underpins everything, from relationships with family and friends to careers and other expectations. And there is nothing in life that’s more important than that.

Originally published on 15 February 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/book-review-michelle-bridges-your-best-body

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LIVE REVIEW: CLIFF RICHARD & O’SHEA @ STATE THEATRE (08.02.2013)

cliff

Cliff Richard is the kind of artist you can take your mum along to see. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. The veteran entertainer mentioned in his tour programme that the fans over 40 would recognise every song they’d hear. The same would only apply to the youngsters who had been brought up properly and thankfully Mama Salvo had done a very good job of that.

The support came courtesy of O’Shea, the husband and wife, country music-playing duo that look just like siblings. Mark O’Shea played acoustic guitar while Jay O’Shea was simultaneously the lady in red and the “fat” lady singing (because she had assured us that her visible baby bump was not indigestion). They won over the older audience by initially playing an acoustic version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”.

Jay’s voice was powerful, especially in the love song “Empty” where she held the same note for what seemed like an eternity. It was positively angelic and received a round of applause before we were treated to the opulent folk of “Thank You Angels”. The pair swapped vocals like Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for another song about marriage. “It Never Goes Away” contained wistful memories before they closed with the stirring number, “Old School”. It had been a short and wholesome set.

But Sir Cliff Richard was the man of the hour and the knight in shining armour, stirring many of the lady’s hearts tonight. The singer, musician and actor has spent a staggering 55 years in the entertainment biz and has had at least one top ten hit in the UK for every one of those six decades (or as long as the record charts have been in existence). Over the years some critics have said his career wouldn’t last and yet his State Theatre show was further proof of his ongoing talent and enduring star power. Although not immune to the ravages of time, at 72 years of age he still looks and sounds great and packs moves just like the King.

Cliff Richard knows he’s not cool. Heck, he was even born with the name, Harry Rodger Webb. But one of his most likeable traits is how honest and happy he is within himself. He sings romantic and smultzy songs and he even joins in with his back-up singers pulling out cheesy, syncopated dance moves (including sways, dips and air guitar). Yet, it’s all done in such an exuberant spirit that it is difficult for you to walk away from his show without having a big smile on your face.

A cover of Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ & Rockin’” opened the show. Richard was in his star-man best with a glittery, black jacket and black tie (he later changed into jeans and a red blazer). He was backed by an eight-piece band that included keyboardists, Keith Hayman (who toured here with Richard and The Shadows in 2010) and Phil Dennis.

“Living Doll” was an early favourite and was originally performed by The Drifters before they became known as The Shadows. “Dreamin’” meanwhile, was some warm pop that matched up perfectly with the golden yellow lighting. The theatre had been illuminated by some 40 spotlights that flashed across the stage and audience like a cross between laser beams and the infamous Hollywood signs. There were also fairy lights set-up as a back-drop – and along with the former lights changing colours to suit the mood of the songs – it all seemed to fit like a glove or as well as the syncopated dancing!

Richard was a humble and gracious performer. He joked that there mustn’t be anything good on the TV tonight and talked us through his early flops- from films that were “X-Rated” to singles that peaked at number 101. But the crowd still loved him because he covered so much ground with genres like skiffle, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, pop, folk ballads and soul.

There were theatrical cover versions of classics crooner standards, “Poetry in Motion”, “Sealed with a Kiss” and “Dream Lover”. But it was clear that the cover closest to Richard’s heart was the one originally produced by his idol and namesake, Little Richard. The song was “Rip It Up”; an ode to the weekend and what proved to be a celebration-filled toe-tapper.

The band played for well over two hours. It was interesting to watch this English gentleman tackle his idols and influences while playing his hit songs from the time spent with The Shadows and some solo tracks and duets. There was his “Most requested song”, “Miss You Nights” while Shadows’ staples, “The Young Ones” and “Summer Holiday” proved as sunny as their surf-pop pedigree.

In the second half there were some more cover versions of songs made famous by Elvis Presley and Johnny Otis. These were like being whisked away in a time machine to the era of Brylcreem quiffs and poodle skirts. The band even temporarily assembled at the front of some steps on the stage, which made them look like they were playing down on the (street) corner. Stephen Walters switched from regular bass to a rich-sounding double bass while Robert Mayused an Australian tea towel on his snare drum. All that was missing from this rag-tag skiffle group was a gut-bucket.

Richard was absolutely magnetic in “Devil Woman”, singing and slinking like a black cat to the sexy pop number about an unfortunate man. “Some People” saw more emphasis being placed on the synths and some newfound electronic bits. Perhaps as a result of this, Richards decided to act like a magician commanding the lights in time with his music. But it the was the middle-of-the-road pop of his highest selling single, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and the much-loved, “Wired For Sound” that got people up from their seats to dance.

The night had been very enjoyable because Richard had oozed energy from the start and this continued throughout the show. He had made the nostalgic songs sound so fun and fresh (even the ones that have passed their golden anniversaries). So Mama Salvo was a shining example of the older ladies in the crowd who had loved it and turned into giddy schoolgirls for the night, remembering those hours they’d spent pouring over their pop idol’s posters. As we left she said she’d have died a happy woman that night thanks to Messer Richard and she wasn’t dreamin’- she meant every word.

O’Shea’s Sydney set list:

1. Crying (written by Roy Orbison)
2. Empty
3. Thank You Angels
4. Dancing In The Minefields
5. It Never Goes Away
6. Old School

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Cliff Richard’s Sydney set list:

1. Reelin’ & Rockin’ (written by Chuck Berry)
2. My Kinda Life
3. Dreamin’
4. Living Doll (originally performed with The Drifters)
5. Poetry In Motion (originally performed by Johnny Tillotson)
6. Sealed With A Kiss (originally performed by Brian Hyland)
7. Dream Lover (originally performed by Bobby Darin)
8. Twelfth of Never (originally performed by Johnny Mathis)
9. ‘D’ In Love (originally performed with The Shadows)
10. Miss You Nights
11. Summer Holiday (originally performed with The Shadows)
12. The Next Time (originally performed with The Shadows)
13. What Car
14. Singing The Blues (originally performed by Tommy Steele & The Steele Men)

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15. Move It (originally performed with The Drifters)
16. Willie & The Hand Jive (written by Johnny Otis)
17. I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine (originally performed by Elvis Presley)
18. Fabulous (originally performed by Charlie Gracie)/Paralyzed (originally performed by Elvis Presley)
19. Ocean Deep
20. The Young Ones (originally performed with The Shadows)
21. Devil Woman
22. Some People
23. Suddenly (originally performed with Olivia Newton-John)
24. It’ll Be Me (originally performed with The Shadows)
25. Rip It Up (originally performed by Little Richard)
26. We Don’t Talk Anymore
27. Wired For Sound
28. Shadows medley: I Could Easily Fall/In The Country
29. Drifters/Shadows medley: High Class Baby/Dynamite/Please Don’t Tease/Forty Days/Do You Wanna Dance

 

Originally published on 9 February 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/cliff-richard-oshea-state-theatre-sydney-08-02-13

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BOOK REVIEW: KIRSTIE ALLEY – THE ART OF MEN (I PREFER MINE AL DENTE)

the-art-of-men-i-prefer-mine-al-dente

Kirstie Alley may be that famous “Fat Actress” but at heart she’s just a boy-crazy, 16 year old school girl. The former star of Cheers and the Look Who’s Talking franchise has tackled her weight issues in her previous book, How to Lose Your Ass & Regain Your Life. Her current one, The Art Of Men (I Prefer Mine al Dente) is a different beast altogether and centres solely on her fascination with the male species.

The book is classed as an autobiography but Alley also sees it as a humorous self-help manual. It’s sold as being about celebrating the good ones, warning about the bad and shaming the outright ugly men she’s encountered in her 62 years on earth and who ultimately, helped shape her.

It’s an interesting formula considering that most people have their fair share of anecdotes about complex, beautiful, troublesome, gentle and horrible men (and women) they’ve known. But few have had the opportunity, fame or foresight to commit this to paper and the fact is this format really doesn’t work.

Alley’s strength is that she is frank and conversational but the lack of narrative thread can make for rambling and disjointed reading. At times the proceedings seem closer to a journal or series of blog posts or it could just be something she remembered in a therapy session or ten. Alley’s life does seem like a smorgasbord of diva stardom where she picks and chooses men like some people change clothes.

It seems that Alley is trying to present this as an honest, no-holds barred tale but some parts of her life are glossed over (i.e. her “fat” period, the breakdown of her second marriage and her daughter (granted it’s a book about men but she gets around two sentences). Some claims are simply outrageous- like saying she took enough cocaine to kill several people, while others feel exaggerated (like the bad dream being compared to a “Satanic coven”).

There are lots of people that admire Alley’s work but whether they will feel the same way after reading this book is another story. She always did seem likeable but here she presents herself as a home wrecker or chronic flirt that falls for men at the drop of a hat. She sensationally claims she had an emotional affair with Patrick Swayze (tacky as he’s passed away) and that she had her own real-life encounter with a Christian Grey-like character. She’s also been married twice and did consider ending the last one much earlier in order to run off and get hitched to John Travolta.

The fact is that Alley is as vivacious and enthusiastic in her story as she is her acting. But the second half of the book (i.e. after becoming a Hollywood film star) is just a series of rendezvous about would-be husbands, old flames and flirtations with her leading men (although this is with the exception of the men she gushes and fawns over i.e. directors like José Quintero and Woody Allen and geniuses like Prince and Sidney Poitier).

This autobiography could be a fun and hilarious romp but it actually grows rather repetitive and tiresome. Alley’s biggest pitfall is how shallow and self-absorbed she seems. She describes outfits worn 25 years ago in pain-staking detail and constantly reminds the reader how fit she was in her size two jeans. This is at odds with the self-deprecating humour found elsewhere and at her worst Alley comes across as simply crazy or delusional.

There is also a chapter about Alley’s Scientology beliefs where she reverts to preaching about the faith. Some fans may appreciate this insight into her character, but the descriptions about her family i.e. her father, grandfather and son are more honest and candid, because they lack the pretension and obvious name-dropping that mar the other chapters.

The Art Of Men (I Prefer Mine al Dente) is like the book equivalent of a rare steak. There are some readers that will find it half-baked and undercooked while others will enjoy the taste of an irreverent woman who speaks her mind through a puff piece. It’s an autobiography that won’t win any grand prizes in literature but it should sell copies thanks to Alley’s fame. Even so, I was left occasionally thinking she should have retained a little more mystery about her kooky, celebrity-filled life.

Originally published on 3 February 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/book-review-kirstie-alley-the-art-of-men-i-prefer-mine-al-dente

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/