Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy – Live at the Toff in Town DVD

Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy released their collaborative debut album Unseen Music Unheard Words on August 17, 2009 under the name Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy Present… The Live at the Toff in Town region-free DVD, filmed September 10, 2009 at the Toff in Melbourne, Australia, showcases Steve, Martin, Graham Lee (The Triffids), and Michael Evans-Barker in a one-time performance of all the songs, in running order, from Unseen Music Unheard Words, as well as a preview song from the upcoming second album, The Church classic “Under the Milky Way”, and “Providence”, which was written by Steve and the late Grant McLennan (The Go-Betweens).

The show is a rare delight, taking place in what looks to be a refined, old-time nightclub with the band members dapperly dressed to the nines, occupying a small, low stage with a screen backdrop onto which abstract images are projected.  A David Lynch-like atmosphere pervades the scene as Steve and company are framed by red, latticed panels and bathed in a ‘blue velvet’ light.  A disco ball dangling from atop the stage emits a shimmering sparkle.  Luckily, there are no backwards-talking dwarves around to steal the spotlight.

Steve holds sway over the audience sitting at candle-lit tables in the packed club, accompanied by Martin on guitar, Michael on drums and percussion, and Graham on pedal steel guitar for certain songs.  The live sound is controlled by Simon Polinski and the footage was filmed and edited by Ritchie Kisielnicki.  The filming style is straightforward with steady, unfussy shots of the band members from different angles that fade and emerge, with the occasional close-up of Steve’s face as he sings.

The smooth, mellow, unhurried instrumentation blends easily with Steve’s elegantly velvety, clearly enunciated vocals, creating a mesmerizing vibe.  For what started out as a two-man musical project, it is fascinating to see the four men who comprise the live band working together seamlessly and naturally in the live milieu.  The sound and mood of Unseen Music Unheard Words is recreated and engagingly tweaked, as Martin, Michael, and Graham provide the musical flint that sparks Steve’s cool, tinder-dry vocals to smolder with a silky, aching warmth.

Highlights include the show opener “Eyes Ahead” which sets the tone of the evening as Steve clearly sing-talks the lyrics, sighing the key phrase “…my heart has been cauterized.” against a steady beat, cymbal hit, and Martin’s light guitar notes.  A crepuscular chill seeps through “Stretch Into the Stars” with sustained, spacey samples that ebb and flow throughout the song.  Brushed drums and cymbals mark time’s passing as Martin picks out darker guitar notes against Steve’s soft vocals on the lyrics “I was frozen like the stars / You might have told me / that our love would last / and stretch into the past.”  At the end of the song Steve replicates the whistling of the melody line found on the studio version with aplomb.

The guys tinker with the tempo of “Thought of Leaving”, quickening it compared to the studio version, with Michael’s pronounced percussion that includes hand drums, short, bright guitar lines from Martin, and Steve singing at a faster pace.  On “All is One”, Graham finally arrives on the scene, sitting placidly to one side of the stage, working the pedal steel guitar, issuing forth Hawaiian-sounding, inherently mournful lines amid shaken-sand percussion, muffled cymbal hits, and a floating synth sample.  Steve sing-talks gently about the end of the Earth and at the end of the song Graham’s pedal steel lines curl around Steve’s caressing vocals as Steve breathes “Spirit, come and take me now.”

The rich, mysterious “Love Increased” pulses with a soft force, as a hypnotic Steve intones the lyrics amid Martin’s curves of guitar, Michael’s hand drumming and hand-tapped cymbal chime, an added clacking beat and horn sample, and Graham on pedal steel guitar.  Steve removes the mic from its stand and holds it in his hand, proclaiming seductively “Fires touch / I want so much… / The summer sky / the wind and sea / bring you near…”

There is a brief interlude between the album run and the next few songs, and while the between-song banter has been kept to a minimum, Steve gets downright chatty before launching into “The Demo”, a song about recording a song that might make its way onto the second album.  The lyrics are mostly tongue-in-cheek, but done up in a serious musical style, with Steve opining “I’ve got the muse again / Give me the blues again.”

Next comes a slightly deconstructed take of The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.  The guys slow up the tempo, with Steve changing the phrase “Lower the curtain down in Memphis” to “Lower the curtain down in Brunswick” in a nod to their Australian locale.  Steve also employs a different inflection to his vocal delivery, emphasizing other words than what is found in the original recording.  At one point the line “shimmering and white” becomes a long, hissing “Shhh…”  A heartfelt take and tribute of “Providence” closes the set with Steve picking up an acoustic guitar and Steve, Martin, and Graham all warmly play together as Steve sings with hope “Where we’re runnin’ / I know… / All I’ve got is providence.”

Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy Live at the Toff in Town DVD is available now via MGM Distribution and online at http://www.kilbey-kennedy.com/

Video for “Eyes Ahead” from Live at the Toff DVD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSFkhEk_iS4