REVIEW: Tim Minchin's 'Surreal' Return To Stage In Post-Lockdown WA

23 February 2021 | 10:02 am | Dan Cribb

“If you’re expecting a comedy show, sucked in, this is your punishment for not reading the instructions.”

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Perth has a weird relationship with Tim Minchin and COVID-19. The WA-raised favourite’s last run of shows in the city took place only a week before the pandemic took hold of the country last March, and his highly-anticipated return for Perth Festival happened to coincide with the end of a 10-month coronavirus-free streak in the state.

Thankfully, Minchin chose to stick around in the state throughout lockdown and celebrate his new album, Apart Together, with Perth fans at rescheduled shows.

Given the very fortunate situation that WA has found itself in over the past year, it can be quite easy to take our freedom for granted, but there’s something about coming together to celebrate live music in such a beautiful venue on a near-perfect summer night that really brings things into perspective.

As the title of the album suggests, a lot of Minchin’s new tracks are based around the loneliness of a travelling creative (as well as “leaving somewhere and trying to get back to family”), and given how immersive his live performances are, it was a surreal experience sitting among almost 5,000 others and feeling somewhat alone.

Minchin’s Perth Festival shows featured him playing the album in full with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, something he joked only “10% of people” were excited by. “If you’re expecting a comedy show, sucked in, this is your punishment for not reading the instructions.”

But the album’s more sombre themes were balanced nicely by his humorous banter between tracks, and although Minchin was somewhat out of his element playing the album in full without his usual band (travel restrictions and lockdown issues meant he enlisted local musos for the job), he was still his same erratic self when left to converse with the audience.

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While most of the banter was freeform and engaging ramblings, he did steer the ship with crowd question submitted before the show and a ‘glossary of terms' for each track, explaining specific cultural and pop references before each song while giving intense insight into the subject matter that followed, ultimately inviting the audience inside his head to better understand each track.

Despite its heartbreaking underlying message and the unfortunately professional events underpinning its subject matter, early single Leaving LA - the track that inspired Apart Together – made it clear early in the evening that the record would translate well to the stage as a whole. It was just a shame no one was allowed to dance to its wildly infectious, upbeat breakdowns.

The first half of bittersweet, romantic 6/8 love ballad The Absence Of You, with just Minchin on piano, was stunning, and things only got better with soaring vocals and the orchestral arrangement from WASO.

At no point was WASO overbearing throughout the night and so when they did take the spotlight in a bold manner, like in Save You, the accompaniment was all the more impactful. The juxtaposition between humorous lyrics backed by strings and other delicate instruments was another welcome hook to the performance.

Likewise, quirky tracks like Beautiful Head were given more character, and heartbreaking numbers such as I’ll Take Lonely Tonight were made more emotional in a live setting thanks to WASO, the latter of which highlighted just how revealing Minchin is with his lyrics. That realness in his words allows for a greater audience connection.

Songs like the “surprisingly contentious” Airport Piano and its preamble reinforced Minchin’s talent for turning simple and seemingly mundane, passing moments that we all experience into poetry.

Every track felt sincerer than the last and by the time he played album closer Carry You, you would have struggled to find anyone who thought he’d Talked Too Much & Stayed Too Long. You’d feel sorry for anyone who did think that or chose to leave before an encore of fan favourites When I Grow Up and White Wine In The Sun (“I’m getting this one in in case we never have another Christmas.”).

It’s what makes Minchin so hard to pigeonhole that also makes him such a captivating performer; he can break your heart with only a few words and then piece it back together with a jolting tempo or melody change that shocks the system.

His seeming inability to sit still is also infectious (not ideal when trying to maintain social distancing) and his affable stage banter really does make his live show feel like an intimate experience.

Earlier this month when Minchin’s shows fell victim to COVID, he said his “first instinct was to go, bugger this, and just hop on a plane and get back to my kids”, but we’re sure glad he chose to ride out the storm, proving there is hope for live music to make a glorious return on a wider scale.