The Narelles are nothing if not an exercise in the extreme suspension of disbelief.
How to review a “successful band” you never heard of, but which recorded a slew of albums, re-formed 29 years after it began, and has a drummer keeping perfect time while cruising the Torrens on Popeye, magically relaying his drum beats through an on-stage speaker?
And how to critique a bunch of toe-tapping songs that sound suspiciously like hits from a certain period, but aren’t, and leave the audience laughing, wincing and singing along – sometimes simultaneously?
The simple answer is: it can’t be done. Not seriously, anyway.
Instead, we are obliged to sit back and applaud this absurdist brainchild of Casey Bennetto, who wrote and performed in Keating! The Musical, and Alan Brough, best-known as a team captain on ABC TV’s Spicks and Specks.
There’s a shallow but worthy stream of comedians creating musical pastiches. In the 1950s, Stan Freberg became a top-selling US act. The 1970s gave birth to The Rutles, who brilliantly parodied The Beatles. Then the 1980s introduced us to Spinal Tap, subject of the ground-breaking hair-metal mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap.
The Narelles, once a hard-working Aussie pub-rock band, fit nicely into that genre.
While much of their music is modelled on real acts that hit their peak up to 10 years before The Narelles got going, it doesn’t matter. The songs stand up well. One crowd favourite repeatedly defies a dictum from the Cabaret Festival’s artistic director, Barry Humphries, that performers not use the “F” word (actually, it’s used 81 times, Brough gleefully informs us).
Other tunes range from a song about Brough’s robotic bottom presented as a hybrid alt-folk / urban R&B number (supposedly written in a log cabin in the Adelaide Hills), to one about a man who became a terrorist to impress a woman. We also learn the truth about what really happened in Shirley Dravinsky’s garage in New Zealand when Brough was a teenager.
Late in The Narelles’ set they play a number they wrote for a tribute album to Nick Cave, but haven’t yet been asked to contribute. It’s literally a killer, while their Pixies-esque rave-up about a farting plumber is hysterical.
This show is an utter delight. If you can get tickets, go!
The Narelles perform at the Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, at 7.30pm tonight (Friday 12 June) and tomorrow night (Saturday 13 June).
More Adelaide Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.
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