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December 17, 2004

Review - Idea of North and Mal Webb

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia):

Perhaps it was Christmas spirit, but the members of the Idea of North are very brave: not because they sing unaccompanied - that has taken off like bird flu - but because they asked Mal Webb to open the show for them. This was like asking Bob Brozman to open if you're a slide guitarist; James Morrison if you're a trumpeter; Han Bennink if you're a drummer; Christine Johnston if you're a saw-playing, bird-imitating, opera-faking wonder girl. Those artists can simultaneously amuse us and play the hell out of their instruments.

As with the members of the Idea of North, Webb's instrument is his voice - or make that voice plus digital delay. The Melburnian is also a natural comedian, who looked like a Darlinghurst vagrant, and who used the loops of mouth percussion and harmony (and the process of building them up with his prized digital delay pedal) to humorous as much as musical effect. However dense these on-the-spot concoctions became, one thing was obvious: Webb is an enormously accomplished singer, drawing on styles from jazz to African yodelling. He fooled around with I Got Rhythm (which his hip mouth percussion confirmed), created a spontaneous piece around a spoken phrase from an audience member, and played his own witty songs.

On one, about his car and his bike, he even did a first for these ears - singing backwards - not to mention getting the audience to enthusiastically participate in sign language and mock-operatic variations on the chorus.

While the Idea of North have become deft entertainers, there was no competing with Webb on that score. The group's strong suits are the arrangements and precision, the seamless blending of soprano Trish Delaney-Brown, alto Naomi Crellin, tenor Nick Begbie and bass Andrew Piper being stronger than the individual voices. I am, however, still at a loss to understand what it is about a capella singing that makes for such a premium being placed on artifice and effect rather than on emotional commitment. Still, these performers are phenomenally accomplished at what they do, and beyond some carols and spirituals, the foursome spread further Christmas cheer when the remarkable Webb joined them for a couple of songs.

Posted by acapnews at December 17, 2004 12:19 AM