Live Review: Harry James Angus, The Twoks

23 November 2017 | 10:59 am | Ching Pei Khoo

"I love Melbourne. In what city could a guy like me stand outside a church and sing 'Kill The Priest'?"

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As tonight's opening act, The Twoks play no small part in setting the scene with Xani Kolac's kinetic turn on the electric violin and vocals, and Mark Leahy on the drums giving their absolute best despite the withering humidity. If anyone could get a car park full of heat-stunned audience members to crouch down and jump up on the count of three, and the sharp twang of her violin, it would be Kolac and her irrepressible grin.

"I love Melbourne. In what city could a guy like me stand outside a church and sing Kill The Priest?" To clarify, we are in the St Patrick's Cathedral car park, diagonally opposite Flinders Street Station, and these are words spoken by Harry James Angus. A bedecked Christmas tree in Federation Square is lit up behind us as we train our attention toward an outdoor stage coolly nestled by the tall, protective arms of the church where the trumpet player extraordinaire and Cat Empire fixture is publicly debuting his new album with a ten-piece band. Although a few lucky private gigs have recently previewed this material, Angus still has a brief visit from opening night jitters.

Angus starts out a little shaky, his voice barely rising above the squawking seagulls circling overhead and taking prime vantage point among the gargoyles of the gothic church tower. Famed for his inexhaustible lung capacity behind the trumpet, it is refreshing to see Angus as the frontman and lead vocalist here. He fully recovers by the second verse of Kill The Priest, however (or the sound engineers did some rapid recalibrating), and barring a few fine-tuning signals everything rolls smoothly for the rest of the evening.

"These are songs flavoured with gospels but about Greek mythology," Angus says in the opening. He could have added that he throws in everything from jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, soul, funk, doo-wop and anything in between. Thematically, Angus is bang-on for consistency as every track features a well-known character from the Greek classics - the Minotaur, Prometheus, Achilles, Persephone and Odysseus to name a few. Whether through calculated brevity or heavy pauses, his storytelling at the start of each number sets the scene and pays dividends - the entire audience hangs transfixed onto his every word as though we are six-year-old children and we even beg for him to continue on when he inquires self-consciously during the first half of the night if he's boring us. The songs that follow richly extend and enhance the famous tales.

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The Lotus Tree ("a song about addiction and forgetting") is as close to a revelation as one could experience. It is haunting and meditative, with the power to completely remove any sense of time and space, just as its fictional namesake did. Angus' whistling solo in the bridge is the crowning glory. He Took The Fire is toe-tapping gospel rock, while Paper Faces - a song about travelling to the Hades underworld and crossing The River Of The Dead is a cheerful soul number. Struggle With Glory is short on spoken words, but features Angus' trumpeting with a dash of mariachi notes. To close the night, I Saw Red is a hearty blend of jive and boogie with Angus giving his scatting a good workout.

With four back-up vocalists and a bevy of talented musos at the grand piano, organ, drums, double bass, trombone and guitar, Angus' debut was manna to the soul and befitting of this venue at the heart of Melbourne Music Week.