Live Review: Kirin J Callinan

29 June 2012 | 3:36 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

“The music has become almost secondary. It’s all about the Chippendale-esque strip show,”

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Such is the quality of the line-up for tonight's “All Night Tote Takeover By Force” that we channel Aerosmith and “…don't wanna miss a thing”. Downing beers in the front bar before the bandroom is ready, it's immediately apparent that the talent inside this venue (both musically and physically) will be something to behold. As the BBQ sizzles away in the courtyard, Machine prove a tasty entree for early openers. The unassuming presence of Nils Arnold and Vijay Singh, eyes downcast in concentration, draws us forward as sounds unfurl and fill the space. We lose count of how many pedals there are onstage. The duo's music bucks and sways, as impossible to pigeonhole as this evening's headliner. Vast and cinematic for a spell and then coaxing us to sway, Machine demonstrate versatility and proficiency with Arnold's intricate guitar work complemented by Singh's precise drumming and keyboard effects.

The merch desk has never looked prettier with multi-coloured cassettes, framed one-off portraits of Callinan in varying sizes that are individually signed with different messages (in gold pen) and even tea towels on offer. Callinan is on hand for signing duties and looks every inch the superstar in camo combat pants, black singlet and hybrid, shaved hairdo that calls to mind Kostya Tszyu. There's even a free key ring with purchase: your choice of clip-on koala or kangaroo. 

A massive blast of smoke fills the stage and billows into the crowd before DCM – Daniel Stricker (Midnight Juggernauts) and Chris Ross (ex-Wolfmother) – take their positions behind keyboards, sequencers, a tangle of cords and plugs. Just as their set builds momentum, the power shuts off and we're left wanting. Interesting, experimental yet ultimately danceable, DCM catapult us into a basement club at 4am. It's 'spot the muso' inside the Tote tonight with Midnight Juggernauts, whose label Siberia Records releases Callinan's material, Cut Copy, My Disco, Oh Mercy and many more familiar faces jostling for space. According to the playing times taped to the sound desk, Kangaroo Skull are up next. We wait. And we wait. It's packed in here. Stricker wanders on stage sporting a surgeon's mask. Two other 'surgeons' follow and then the man of the hour joins them, Peroni in hand. The amount of vocal personas Kirin J Callinan incorporates is awe-inspiring and his range is impossibly elastic. There's shades of Antony Hegarty and also something operatic about Callinan's voice and he effortlessly demands our attention. His stage presence is like a magnet; you can't drag your eyes away from him. His banter is also hilarious: “It's red over here and blue over there,” Callinan remarks of how the lighting looks from the stage. “It's like the crowd's in 3D.” He's in a playful mood and scans the crowd like a child seeking approval, alternating facial expressions from joyous to dejected with regularity.

Callinan has been known to nude up for promotional material and tonight he jokes, “The music has become almost secondary. It's all about the Chippendale-esque strip show,” before removing his tank top. There's massive demand for an encore and Callinan returns, clearly enjoying the accolades. Thighs (the B-side to Callinan's W II W single, launched via this tour) is heartbreakingly beautiful and all in the room stand motionless, taking in every nuance and tortured strum.

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Having admired Callinan over the years in Mercy Arms and Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, it's satisfying to see him finally performing in front of sold-out crowds with his solo material. No one presents like Callinan, composes like Callinan, plays the guitar like Callinan or sings like Callinan. He's the new Bowie.