Barb Jungr: A Clearer Incarnation

When I first saw Barb singing the songs of Bob Dylan at the 2006 Adelaide Cabaret Festival I hadn’t heard of her, didn’t know how to pronounce her name and knew nothing more than the cursory about cabaret.

I knew Bob Dylan though. I’d hung out with him in my car, in my bedroom, in my heartache. He conversed with my secret poet in tapes slipped into Walkmans and CDs bought by lovers. I’d had to dash to the pub for a restorative after walking into the Tate in Pimlico only to be confronted with my favourite Dylan lyric written in bold letters all over the wall. I had a favourite version of “Lay, Lady, Lay.” If I met someone and they loved Bob, I loved them. Simple.

So picking Barb out of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival brochure with no further information seemed like a reasonable gamble.

It was a cold night and we smoked ciggies in the cloister outside the Piano Bar – chilly cats checking out the happenings on our block. We took our seats in the Banquet Room innocently unaware of the spectacles to come.
every grain of sand
The set up was simple – a woman sitting on a stool speaking and singing, and beside her a man playing piano. But, she did amazing things. She was like a medium without the clairvoyance. She turned time from hours and minutes into spirit, magic, tears and ecstasy. She made herself into a clearer incarnation of Dylan – a Dylan with the cloak lifted, the glass cleaned, the mirror undisturbed. It made me want to stand up, sit down, sing out, weep, embrace and be embraced.

When she bowed to our applause and left the stage we looked at each other in awe. Audience members saw the person next to them – the one whose hand they clutched during “Sarah” – and realised they’d never met before. Haunted, we rose from our seats in silence and then huddled in groups outside, standing close to each other so the electric sparks could keep flashing between us – we who were there, we who knew.  We stood for a long time while the sparks stilled and we remembered how to breathe steadily again.

After seeing Barb if I met someone and they loved cabaret, I loved them. Simple.

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I wrote this for the Barb Jungr newsletter on the occasion of her glorious return to the 2013 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Ali McGregor’s Alchemy

Ali McGregor promised to take the Top 40 to the 1940s – and she accomplished just that.

Her new show Alchemy is an instalment of what I like to call “Re-Pop,” where pop songs from the 80s and 90s are given a distinctly un-pop layer of stylistic velour.  Think the Ukulele Orchestra’s interpretation of the Bowie classic “Life on Mars,” or the cover of Ultravox’s 80s anthem “Vienna” in the style of Gregorian Chants, or Adelaide’s very own Hans putting his accordion-spin on Brittany Spears in Rundle Mall back in the day when he could busk in hot pants without being noticed. McGregor’s sublime vocals and reverence for both jazz and pop make a healthy contribution to the tradition.

Alchemy transformed Aqua into twisted seduction and the Fine Young Cannibals into a passionate plea. When she sang KISS, I wondered if it would be possible to make the Universal Symbol of Rock out of olives and toothpicks so it could be used as a Martini garnish. I’ve never been to a show that made me consider that before…

Seeing the delight of the punters when they recognised the pop song hiding within the more refined case was one of the joys of her show. While the early evening light in the Spiegeltent was somewhat of a distraction, it was worth it to see the audience silently clicking their fingers and bopping their heads when the penny dropped.

McGregor pulled her inspiration from the trashy recesses of her teenage pash spots, covered them with glitter and lipstick, added a double bass, left the mondegreens unchecked, then delivered the package with vocal perfection.

It’s a delightful display of jazz-coated Re-Pop, which will be refined to a night of reverent irreverence as she takes it around the world.

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This review first appeared in Cabaret Confessional on 25 February 2012.