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In The Raw

The Preatures + Abbe May
Chevron Gardens
17 February
Photos by Marnie Richardson

This was a special occasion that we’re unlikely to witness again and The Preatures took to it with all the greatness they had in them

Sunday evening, 17 February, at Perth Festival’s Chevron Gardens promised punters an evening of unplugged delight with both The Preatures and Abbe May playing sets that were to be, according to the event information, “stripped back and raw”.

Clara Iaccarino, Contemporary Music Programmer at Perth Festival, gave us the background to the format for the show:  “I am a sucker for the unplugged format and really enjoy being able to see the songs stripped bare. Given The Preatures are renowned for being a very upbeat pop-rock band, I was excited about the prospect of paring back the sound to focus on the essence of the songs. The band has visited Perth many times, so to make it a different and special show I went for the unplugged format.”

Sydney outfit The Preatures have a professed love of Perth and it was evident on the night that Perth loves them right back.  And Abbe May is just about as close as we’ll ever get to royalty here in the west, unless we secede.  So, line up, tick.

Speaking to Preatures guitarist, Jack Moffitt, before the show, he was taking the unplugged thing pretty literally.

“To be honest, it’s a difficult thing for us to do the acoustic thing.  When we get a long enough lead to be able to take the time to get the touch right, we like to do that sort of stuff.  Almost all of the songs start that way and it can be a challenge to have to go back into that space, but it’s a challenge that we like.  People see us and kind of know what it’s (the show) going to be and, most of the time it is that high energy rock and roll thing.  It’s a chance to get back to our acoustic origins.”

Having now witnessed the show, it’s clear that Moffitt was quite prescient about the dilemma the band faced coming in.  To accomplish what was asked of them, The Preatures traded their “high energy rock and roll thing” for more sparse arrangements and plenty of banter and stories between the songs.  They were still plenty plugged in for the most part and, really, the closest they got to being ‘stripped back’ was the fact that the band members were sitting down for much of their set.

So, was the trade off worth it?

We thought so.  But first, Abbe May.

Stalking Chevron Gardens’ ample stage wearing a pair of gold boots and teasing the audience with a threat to take off her shirt at one point — “I have forgotten to wear a bra again tonight so if you do see a breast, you’re welcome!” — May was the living embodiment of the line from her set opener, ‘Are We Flirting?’, You walk around like you don’t give a fuck.

May wielded an acoustic guitar tonight, instead of her more usual black Gibson, but she used pedal-witchcraft to make the lead breaks sound as electric as ever.  Her band, consisting of bass and drums, was just as plugged in as always.  The only real musical concession to the evening’s aesthetic was the absence of the backing tracks that May uses to augment her live sound.

It didn’t matter.  May delivered a mesmerising and playful set that included her perennial cover of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ as well as a satisfying selection of her own tracks, including the yet to be released, ‘Fuck You’.  May expressed reservations about playing that song tonight, with its theme of love gone wrong, but it was warmly received by the audience, as was the rest of May’s set.

From pop to swampy blues, musically, Abbe May has it all.  What she also has is a capacity for raw honesty that came through so strongly in her banter and stories between, and about, the songs that at times it felt a bit like we were attending a group therapy session.  If you’re familiar with May’s social media feed, nothing about her openness and capacity for sharing would have surprised you in her between-songs one-on-one with the audience.  This is a woman who is scarred but strong and proud to show all of the emotional and physical wear that life has dealt her along the way.  It sits well with her songs and, if anything, her set tonight just made her all the more attractive as an artist and person, and all the more accessible.

Good luck following that!

The Preatures opened their set with ‘Girlhood’ followed by a bit of a public service announcement from front woman, Izzi Manfredi.

“We’re going to do things a little different tonight. I’m sitting down, which isn’t going to last long. Tonight is less about the shtick and more about the songs.”

The band then broke into ‘Somebody’s Talking’ during which we had one of a few moments where it was evident that The Preatures were still working out the finer points of the acoustic arrangements, as Manfredi intruded on guitarist Moffitt’s solo.  They carried it well and that moment, along with a slight keyboard misstep when Manfredi was alone on the stage later in the set, just added to the intimacy and charm of the night.

“Now I’m super nervous to play this next one,” was Manfredi’s response to her fumbling fingers.  This is a woman who exudes super confidence on stage and in the media.  Seeing her let down her guard like that was worth all the lack of high energy rock and roll.

And, maybe it wasn’t even a lack, it was just that the energy was different.  The Preatures worked their way through a 90-minute set, taking the audience from full band mode to Manfredi holding the stage alone for renditions of ‘Your Fan’ and ‘Business, Yeah’, to Manfredi and Moffitt playing as a duo and then back to the four-piece format to close out the show.  The pacing of their set worked a treat and held the audience’s thrall with ease.

But the stand out feature of The Preatures’s set tonight was, by far, the stories they shared about the songs. There was less swagger and more honesty, some of it brutal.  Introducing ‘Queen Elvis’, a song The Preatures played tonight for the first time ever, Manfredi spoke about the suicide of the young woman for whom she wrote the song, who also carries her name, Isabella Rose.  Manfredi’s introduction was greeted with a silence of the sort that signals reflection on common experience.  This was a brave move on the singer’s part and the warm response at the close of the song showed how much the, by now, full venue appreciated being able to share this moment of raw honesty.  Tonight really meant something.

For this reviewer, that moment epitomised the evening.  Immediately after the show I couldn’t figure out whether stripping away the swagger of a band like The Preatures was worth it.  Having taken a moment or two to reflect before writing this review, I can say definitively that it was.  This was a special occasion that we’re unlikely to witness again and The Preatures took to it with all the greatness they had in them, as musicians and as people.

Of course, the format didn’t mean that Manfredi was completely restrained.  There were some moments of sharpness among the raw emotion, but, in this format, it was so much easier to see the tongue planted firmly in her cheek.

Part way through their set, Manfredi said, “I feel like I’ve just revealed way too much about myself. I’m a strong, independent woman, I have no problems with anyone.”  Then, introducing The Preatures’ last song for the night, ‘Is This How You Feel’, Manfredi left the crowd with, “I wrote it, so I can fucking sing it if I want. Oh! That’s going to be in the review,” all delivered with her dazzling smile.

Damned right it’s going to be in the review!  If it’s The Preatures, it can’t all be hearts and flowers, there has to be an edge somewhere.

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