Friday, June 27, 2014
MELANIE, IN MELBOURNE AGAIN
I FIRST saw Melanie in concert way back when, in Melbourne at Dallas Brooks Hall. I was a teenager and can still remember the concert finishing with Ruby Tuesday and Babe Rainbow. She was about 30, and had just released an album called Photograph. Looking back, I can see that she was at the top of her game. Her popularity was at a peak around then, but dived later. And now, just last night, I went and saw her again, this time at the Recital Centre. A different venue and a different sense of where she’s at. But apart from the fact that she looks older, and her son plays guitar with her (he wasn’t born yet the first time she came out here), and that she has some new and newer songs, not much was else was different. Her voice is still strong and clear and hypnotic.
An hour before the concert, before I left home and drove to the city, we played some Melanie on YouTube, and the anticipation swelled within me. Stoneground Words, My Rainbow Race, In The Hour, Chart Song- all songs you would love to hear at a Melanie concert if you know her material around the late 60’s.
Inside the venue a half hour before it began, there was Melanie merchandise and Melanie fans everywhere. I tried to pick up snatches of conversation. It is rare indeed to be surrounded by so many like-minded people. Of course you realise there actually are a lot of people who like Melanie. Strange feeling that you don’t actually know any.
The band, sans Melanie, came out to play to do an instrumental medley. When Melanie emerged, spotlighted, generous applause. And then she launched into a different, but credible, People In The Front Row. If I ever saw Joni Mitchell, it would not be to hear Big Yellow Taxi, or Both Sides Now, or You Turn Me On (I’m A Radio). And when I did see Van Morrison (twice) hearing Here Comes The Night, Gloria, Moondance, Wavelength, and Bright Side of the Road were not my favourite moments. The same goes for Melanie. I could have done without Brand New Key, Look What They’ve Done To My Song Ma, and Candles in the Rain, even Ruby Tuesday.
Melanie spoke indulgently between songs. She seemed very relaxed. I think it helped that it was the last concert of a busy one month schedule in Australia. Most of it seemed off the cuff, random observations about the woes that are a part of the music industry (modern day producers want young artists rather than older artists- even ‘young shit’ is preferable). 9/11 was an incredible shock and produced a certain numbness, as well as a lovely song called Smile, co-written with her son, Beau. The Woodstock story emerged, which I have heard too many times now. And then there was the Beautiful People story based on a life affirming subway trip one day in New York in the late 60’s. Miley Cyrus was cited a couple of times, but not, unlike in her reference to Celine Dion, disparagingly. And then another long, interesting story about the making of Brand New Key, and Roger Kellaway’s part in it, as well as the corny background vocal that somebody else created, and the embarrassment it caused its author when it became such a global hit (no. 1 in Australia, for example).
Requests were requested. Some annoying person behind me was insistent on calling loudly for ‘Candles in the Rain’ and then after that just ‘Candles!’- as if it wasn’t going to be sung anyway- what kind of knowledge about Melanie did this suggest? I’m sure the singer was irritated. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked for a request. Or maybe I, uncharacteristically emboldened, should have yelled out ‘Little Bit Of Me’, or ‘I Am Not A Poet’ or ‘Leftover Wine’, or, to really impress her, ‘Close To It All’ or ‘We Don’t Know Where We’re Going’ (except that last one would be such a mouthful). (Later, in the car, I thought about how embarrassing it would be to request a song by Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez by accident. The guy sitting beside me, who said he was such a fan, told me his favourite Melanie song was Candle in the Wind!).
So really, it seems, in concerts like these, you don’t seem to get the songs you really want to hear, the less well known, less commercial quieter ones. You just have to put up with it and remember that the bulk of the audience are there to hear Brand New Key because they remember hearing it in 1971. They probably don’t even own more than one or two Melanie albums.
I enjoyed the concert, and was pleasantly surprised that her voice is in such good nick for her age, and her stories were interesting, albeit a bit long-winded. But the best moment of the evening for me came at the end, after the hour and a half long wait in the queue. Meeting Melanie for the first time, having her sign my programme.
I finally got to the front of the queue- person in the front row. I didn’t know what to say, but part of me was determined to say something about my gratitude. I can’t even remember getting eye contact with her. She asked me what I wanted her to sign. Then I said something like ‘I feel the need to tell you that you have been such an important person in my life, and yet you don’t even know me, and I don’t know you, and I will probably never even see you again.’ Her response was ‘you don’t know that, that you won’t ever see me again’, and I said, nervously, and fumblingly, ‘you’re not likely to come out here again.’ Then I remembered I asked the person behind me to take a photo of us, which she did, with my right hand gently reclining on the middle part of her back. And suddenly, that was it, and when I emerged into the cold, cold night at midnight, the night before a busy working day, I wished I had asked her what Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards think of her covers, and if she has met Joni, and how can I write to her, etc, etc.
Meeting someone you really admire is exciting, and powerful, but it can be deflating in a way as well if it is too transitory. But deflating is not accurate here. ‘My God’, I thought to myself. I have actually met Melanie. All day today I have had Melanie music in my head.