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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.

The Oz King of Smooth

8 October 1988 - Harbourside Brasserie

review by Peter Holmes - Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1988

Stephen Cummings looked up at the audience meekly last Saturday night, mumbled something about hoping that we had a good time, and sauntered off through the crowd.

With his messy grey hairdo and western flannelette shirt done up to the top, Cummings looks anything but Australia's answer to Frank Sinatra or Bryan Ferry, or whoever the king of smooth happens to be at present.

On stage he seems awkward; one hand cupped over the microphone when his guitar is unused, his eyes closed, maybe in a trance. He talks little, probably unsure of what to say.

With his latest solo album, Lovetown, ranking among the best pieces of vinyl released in this country (of course, it was ignored by our embarrassingly uneducated commercial radio programmers who see Poison as the future), and a new solo album recorded but unreleased, Cummings has a healthy catalogue.

This evening's set revolved around Lovetown and his new recordings, with a few tracks from his second solo album, This Wonderful Life, and a couple of covers tossed in.

The band was just two guitars, bass, drums and a backing vocalist who handled the tambourine occasionally. With such minimal personnel, they managed to create a broad sound that engulfed the Harbourside Brasserie.

A lot of the material from Lovetown was played fast, maybe to give people the chance to dance.

The set maintained a balance though, with Viva Las Vegas, a sprightly reading of the new single A Life Is A Life, and a purposefully disjointed Push It Up, All Fall Down. A new ballad, Love Comes Back, the yearning Where Are You Going and the gorgeous If You Don't Want My Love (although a little a heavy-handed) sliced straight through the heart.

If one was to nitpick, one could criticise the strained chorus treatment handed out in Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven, and the lack of a piano in She Set Fire To The House, but these are minor gripes.

Which says it all about Stephen Cummings - singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer. And his superb, but definitely understated band. Live and on vinyl they are a necessity; a pleasure we should all indulge in every once in a while.

Stephen Cummings returns to Sydney in late October for two shows at the Kardomah Cafe.

the Stephen Cummings site - email: feedback AT