Abbe May + Clamjam, Chevron Gardens, Wednesday, February 14, 2018 (Pic: Cam Campbell)
You know you’ve made a mark on the tandem worlds of entertainment and refreshment when there is a beer brewed in honour of your latest album.
Entering the Chevron Gardens on this Valentine’s Evening, the signage was up and the bars well stocked with Bitch Craft, a collaboration between WA singer/songwriter-of-the-moment-and-all-the-times Abbe May and Feral Brewing Company. It’s a citrus summer ale, which according to Guy Southern of craftypint.com is…
‘… more viscous than one might expect, however levity is provided by a rolling citrus that becomes almost perfume-like. There’s a sweet undercurrent and a hoppy bitterness that’s dried by the dash of salt added to the mix’.
It verily describes the music of Abbe May, come to think, and more widely, the celebration and depth of Australian female talent showcased on this occasion as she turned her launch into a Clamjam. First off was the torchy blues of Mojo Juju, who joked that as May had asked her to bring over the most attractive members of her band, she had arrived solo. Whether armed with her guitar or delivering it over a beat (as per Native Tongue, from her forthcoming album) it was all strong stuff as the crowd continued to file in, immediately taking notice.
Sex Panther were a must-see in the mid-to-late 2000s, but were an often shambolic, post-grunge outfit that didn’t play on stages or with production like this. It’s more dream-like and tribal now, vocalist, Storm Wyness, evoking a little of Siouxsie Sioux on occasion and while some apologies were made for lyrics written a decade ago, her voice soared regardless. A few songs into the set and they were well settled in – a killer surprise whether you knew of them previously or not.
Opening with the strident How Much Does Your Love Cost? Thelma Plum took to the stage and owned it, her rather serious demeanour later complemented by a warm and friendly stage patter (‘it’s nice to be back in Perth; my favourite home away from home’). Backed by a drummer and guitarist/keyboardist, Plum’s music is of the now but there’s an old-world-sophistication in her performance. And thankfully much more of it to come.
Outtakes from a forthcoming documentary about women in Australian music evoked a unity throughout the evening, a romantic night that saw partners of all orientations happy and welcome. When Abbe May and her band took to the stage, it was reminiscent of the manner in which David Bowie and his band started their Reality tour concerts in 2003-04 – Matthew Wright kicked off on drums with each member entering individually and instrumentally before backing vocalist Odette Mercy and May herself joined in on guitar and struck into Like Me Like I Like You – the stage bathed in red light and the sound already just gorgeous, before the whole train rolled in Love Decline.
The new album, Fruit, was given the showcase treatment here. The working title, Bitchcraft, was let go, but remains as a song and gained a beer along the way. ‘You’ve had it in your mouths, now we’re going to give it to your ears’, May declared saucily as said song took the band into another gear and May burned on guitar, making her way to the front of the stage to her devotees (and they are) and accepting a swig of champagne, paying it back later with a sip from a hip flask.
As May led into a lover letter to her niece, Seventeen, her mother swayed with pride near the front of the stage (and laughed every time May uttered the work ‘fuck’. Which was fucking lots). Meanwhile KT Rumble – Doug May at home – delivered on bass and reconstructed knee. Sure, he was moving a little gingerly, but certainly not playing that way.
WA hip hop boss, Mathas, joined May for I’m Over You with mutual assurances that this was not the case, before Tinderella emerged as a quasi-Valentine’s Day anthem. The men’s toilet literally rattled to the rhythm of it.
With Fruit discovered and explored the last bend took in a triple-threat with Are We Flirting? (we were), T.R.O.U.B.L.E. and Karmageddon itself grooving into a Hendrix-guitar-drum freak-off into Doomsday Clock, which saw May and Mercy shine as soul sisters supreme. A fond farewell and many thank you’s took May and co. to a fitting end with Mammalian Locomotion joined by Luke Minness, soaring on saxophone.
An experience enjoyed and shared. Looking at the crowd it made sense (and love) that Abbe May enjoys such a loyal following. She shares not only her music, but her life. She gets scared and takes chances – and gets scared about taking chances – and what you are left with is some who is real. Who is brave. Who is sexy.
All this and it sounds good too. ‘There’s a sweet undercurrent and a hoppy bitterness that’s dried by the dash of salt added to the mix’.
Let’s drink to that.