Mark Steiner and his Problems + Tom Redwood
Metro Hotel, Adelaide
January 15, 2015
Alison Lea photos

Tom Redwood is one of those extraordinary artists who will cause writers to use foolishly inappropriate words to describe his music. For example, would you call Bob Dylan ‘a folk musician’..? Of course not; he’s Dylan.

Tom Redwood (an educated gent, more often seen around Adelaide’s pubs as one of Leather Messiah’s guitarists) has recently released his second lp, Look! which is out now and is a cracker.

This is a very special gig. This is Tom’s last Adelaide gig for some time; his songs are enormously moving, with a resonance which stays with you - Tom’s performance lifts them all still higher.

You know the test of a good CD. You keep playing it. You play it again frequently, you want to hear more, when you hear it out of context, you recognise the song like an old friend. And at a gig like this, you’re excited because you know that if the cd is half as good as what you just saw …

From the crushing savagery of "Disneyland" to the startling "What’s Wrong With Me", Tom brings a conviction and originality to the tale of the modern man. Keith Davis on pedal steel, I think Sasha March on backing vocals and Naomi Cain on violin; and Vic Conrad on organ.

Mark Steiner presented us with a stripped-down band tonight; Valentina Veil on keys and backing vocals and Henry Hugo on ‘second’ guitar. He’s an artist in his own right, Henry; among other things, as you can see from this link

Now then. If you were told that, when you die, you have to die in front of a living guitarist … who would you pick? Someone whose guitar sound alone transports you, surely.

Now, for me, apart from Sean Bowley-Kramer (of Eden), or Sacri Cuori, or Hugo Race … I’d have to pick Mark Steiner. To hear Steiner’s evocative noir Telecaster sound through Vic’s Fender amp … well, it’s a damn hard choice.

And then there’s the songs. Most were from his new CD, "Saudade" (pron. ‘sordage', Mark tells us); Portuguese for the painful feeling of grief, yet joy at the memory… now, as I’ve implied, "Saudade" is one of those CDs I’ll be playing till my dying day. On the second listen it has that ‘old familiar friend’ aspect, which we welcome back into our lives. Do it now:

But live, and especially tonight, which was anything but a po-faced canter through a standard set. For a start, because they’d rehearsed with a bass (the remarkable Rosie Westbrook), the lack of bass meant that there were times when they had to counter and improvise… Now, I was only told this after the gig, during the gig you were too busy being transported to notice. The skill, I guess, when you suddenly find yourself altering what you’ve rehearsed, is to effortlessly cover up any errors or hiccups. Venus In Furs was a case in point. If you’ve not heard the original, I can’t help you and you should remove yourself from this place, seek out this song and the lp it came from and, after six months of ceaseless listening, you may return here.

Mark covers four songs on the CD, "Closing Time" (Billie Holiday); "Love is Gone" (Robert Solli Buras, a close friend), "Dead Radio" (Rowland S. Howard) and "Venus in Furs" (Lou Reed). Steiner’s version of "Venus in Furs" on "Saudade" is sharp, intelligent, and considerably more beautiful than the original.

Just quickly: when you’re covering an artist considered ‘uncoverable’ because they’re … well, godheads … you really don’t have too many options. First, mimic the original. Second, trash it. Third, bang your way through and hope no-one notices how crap you are. And fourth, yeah you know what the fourth one is: focus on one aspect of the song and make your version so significant as well as different that people still remember your version as well as the original. Ever hear "(I Can’t Get Me No) Satisfaction" by the Residents? By Devo? See what I mean?

Watching Mark and Henry work together, balancing themselves against each other, was an education. They’re very grounded, down-to-earth people, this band; Valentina’s keys and vocals added an extra dimension of course, but the byplay between these stunning guitars was the real drawcard. Venus in Furs was a wonderful, glorious rendition; sufficiently different, sufficiently striking that you think, ‘hey, who wrote this again..?’

There was trouble, of course.

No, not really.

But there was a loud-mouthed lout at one end of the stage hollering assorted smart-arsery at the band.

Instead of losing his cool or getting all flustered, Mark says, "That’s what I love about Australia, everyone joins in"… which of course lead to the lout (er, well, it wasn’t me, but I, erm, did invite him) shooting off at least one line at every break. Mark loved it, responded genially every time, the audience pissing themselves each time. Quite a thing, really; this intimate venue, appreciative crowd, laughter in between the most striking, personal songs.

Stand-outs? All of it, really. There wasn’t a duff moment, not a bum note. We all wanted it to go on more or less all night. Mark sold lots of records and CDs.

Meeting the band afterwards was like hearing his cds; welcoming an old friend.

If you missed this tour, well; he’s been profoundly influenced by Australian music, and clearly the man’s mad as a brick, so he’ll be back.

But next time: cancel everything. Mark Steiner is essential.