Photo Courtesy of: http://www.3aw.com.au
I was talking to Sammy Davis Jr once -- to drop a name – on one of his 1980s visits to Melbourne and we were discussing his hotel. He was staying at the relatively new Hilton near Fitzroy Gardens.
Sammy had ordered that all air-conditioning be turned off for the whole floor on which he was staying. It wasn’t just a prima donna’s demand. He said: ‘It’s about the pipes’.
He wasn’t talking about the hotel’s ventilation system. He was talking about his own pipes. His vocal chords. Had to protect the precious voice.
I thought about him last night in the opening minutes of the much-vaunted concert to re-open Hamer Hall.
Sammy Davis wouldn’t have liked it. We started the night with the now-obligatory ‘welcome to country’ which was accompanied by a smoking ceremony.
Within minutes the spanking new auditorium sounded like a coughing convention. As the smoke was fanned out into the stalls we started coughing and we were 18 rows back.
It lingered for ages and I wondered what k.d. lang was thinking. Why would you do that in an enclosed theatre?
But there were a lot of other puzzling things about last night’s concert. There was no M.C. And for the first 15 minutes not a word of English was spoken. First Aboriginal chants and dances and then some guy appeared on a balcony and sang about something in another language.
I guess if you’d used your iPhone light you could have checked your program and seen it was a bloke described as an ‘ independent singer-songwriter’ named Lior who sang something called Avinu Malkeinu.
Unannounced, Archie Roach materialised and did a wonderful version of Spirit of Place before slowly walking off ghost-like.
Eddie Perfect wisely introduced himself gave a great big band performance of a self-written tribute to Melbourne’s laneways.
Caroline O’Connor somehow combined Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Waltzing Matilda with a tuxedo-clad squad of dancing males in a number that had Rhonda Burchmore’s name written all over it.
The big hit—and the only standing ovation was for k.d.lang who also shuffled on stage barefoot. At least she needed no introduction. Her four-song set concluded with her magnificent version of Hallelujah which should have closed the show.
But she was followed by the anti-climactic appearance of eight sopranos with the Ride of the Valkyries. Earlier in the night it would have been fine. But k.d. lang was always going to be an impossible act to follow.
It was a bad programming mistake. But I can imagine, when approving the rundown, the snobby powers-that-be, saying something like: ‘Oh, we can’t possibly finish with a pop singer. Has to be opera. I mean it IS a concert hall after all.
First rule of show biz guys: Leave ‘em laughing.