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MEDIA: Reviews: Live '88

Restraint Defies Familiar Crassness

23 March 1988 - Klub Kakadu, Paddington

review by Lynden Barber - Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1988

Cultural cringe: episode 13,957 in a continuing series. How ridiculous it is that a record as intelligent and sophisticated as Lovetown, the recent solo LP by former Sports singer Stephen Cummings, should have to find release on an independent label, Melbourne's perky Rampant Records.

But all is not lost. Despite a lack of marketing muscle, the record has started to pick up commercial airplay - an unlikely ally, 2DAY-FM, is presenting Cummings's three-day, cabaret-style season in Sydney - and it is hovering just outside the Kent Report Top 50.

Maybe it's the man's impertinent lack of crassness that flummoxes the music industry's diligent squads of talent-spotters. The absence of drums (only occasional Latin rhythms on a drum machine and shakes of the tambourine here) is hardly a conducive soundtrack to the sinking of schooners down at Benny's, and similar industry watering holes. Accompanying singer, the sweet-voiced Rebecca Barnard, doesn't wear leopard-skin pants. And although guitarist Andrew Pendlebury's finger-picking hillbilly licks must warm the cockles of 1970s rockers, he stubbornly refuses to wear spurs and shout "Yihaah!" a la Johnnys.

Cummings is the world-weary type, an elegantly besuited stoic who has seen it all, lived it all, and decided to get some of it off his chest. His opening, the lovely Where Are You Going?, is so good you wonder why he didn't save it for the encore.

The mood is one of restraint and late-night sophistication, with an air of roots authenticity - country-inspired music for an adult audience (Paul Kelly should get a band together like this). He's probably tired of hearing it, but Cummings's long-established, probably unconscious tendency towards vocal mimicry of Elvis Costello and Van Morrison is his major foible, and the good taste can get a little overdone, but perhaps this is an understandable reaction to a cultural environment controlled by those with a penchant for grossness (hi, Singo, Bondy, et al). Cummings is an outstanding lyricist and a thoughtfully mature performer. It's about time he tasted a bit of international fame.

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