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Review: THE JEN LUSH BAND at Wizard Tone Studios, Hendon

Review: THE JEN LUSH BAND at Wizard Tone Studios, Hendon

A concert of a new album.

Reviewed by Ray Smith, Sunday 5th February 2023.

I was late. A reviewer is never late, he arrives just when he means to, and I arrived at the ghostly rabbit warren of the old State Film Corporation buildings at Hendon in plenty of time, but I was still late to The Jen Lush Band.

Finding the right door in the right building was my first challenge, like Gandalf's fellowship searching for the gates of Moria, my intrepid companion and I searched the valleys of Hendon as the cliffs of deserted buildings loomed above us, until she spied a handwritten note pinned to an anonymous door that read, "Latecomers, call Jen and enter", or words to that effect, and we were saved.

Once ushered inside by Jen Lush herself, the ethereal sounds of
Trav Collins's 12-string guitar washed over us like a soft warm mist, and we quietly entered the bright, live room of Wizard Tone Studios.

I had never heard Trav Collins perform before, and he is certainly an intriguing player. His vast array of effect pedals, loop station, and stomp box allows him to create dense atmospheric layers of sound that build and twist in the air as his gentle voice narrates the strange and beautiful world that he invites us into, all with an easy and relaxed feel that speaks of hours of solitary and dedicated refinement. His dynamic range is extraordinary, as complex woven soundscapes and insistent beats suddenly drop to simple finger-style guitar themes, his soft, reassuring voice the connecting thread between the two diverse states of being. It was all rather beautiful, and utterly original. I shall keep my eyes open for his future performances.

After an intermission, Jen Lush assembled her band to prepare for this invitation-only show, and an impressive band it is.

James Brown, Wizard Tone Studio's producer, engineer, and acclaimed guitarist, was ready as always, Sam Cagney, acoustic guitar and backing vocals, checked his tuning, Mark Seddon, bass guitar slung impossibly low, loomed in the background, and Paul Angas adjusted his stool behind his drum kit and made sure that his keyboards were within reach of his left hand.

Jen Lush was ready to begin, and so were the "Four Ugly Men", as Cagney referred to them, but there were five other minds present, those of the five poets that had inspired Lush to set their words to music and present them to us as only she can.

It was in late 2015, I think, when I sat behind a table with Chris Finnen as we judged a song-writing competition at the Fleurieu Folk Festival, an event held in memoriam of the late Judith Crossley, the South Australian song-writer and local historian, that I first heard Jen Lush. The competition was steep, but Lush's work cut through with such poignancy and concise economy of words that Chris and I just looked at each other and knew that we had witnessed something rather special. During a short and somewhat nervous speech, Lush revealed that the cash prize that she had won would be invested in a recording project of Australian poetry, set to music. She produced an album of poetry set to her compositions entitled, Sometimes the Night is Like Dark Water, and, several years later, here we are again.

The performance was, as one would expect, brilliantly executed, thoroughly engaging, and utterly beautiful. Whether Lush is telling her own stories through her music, or those of others, she always totally immerses herself in the works, and we are not so much an audience as a group permitted to witness her deep meditations.

It was so refreshing to hear an Australian accent singing Australian words to an Australian audience, rather than the pseudo-American twang that pollutes so much of the otherwise worthy offerings from many Australian singers.

Lush was relaxed, at ease in her happy place, her comfort zone, eyes closed as she swayed and turned, hands punctuation the lyrics in the air or gently stroking a particularly moving phrase, as her band formed an undulating pillow of sound for her at times conversational voice to nestle into.

There was an intimacy here, a sharing of secrets, a rejoicing of the voices of others that Lush had found and fallen deeply in love with.

Her musicians offered no virtuosic solos, there was no room for ego here, just understated musical mastery from each of the four ugly men, as they shared in Lush's passion for the written and spoken word. Sometimes a simple guitar pattern or bass riff was sufficient to convey lush's interpretation of the poetry, at other times a rockier treatment was required, and Brown's guitar eagerly leaped to the fore, while Angas devoted three limbs to his drum kit and the fourth to his keyboard.

This was a performance of an album of songs that is yet to be released, but in August this year, we should be able to get our hands on it. In the meantime, I will be searching for the works of the five poets who inspired this stunning show:
Ali Cobby Eckermann, Reneé Pettitt-Schipp, Graham Kershaw, Kevin Brophy, and Maria Zajkowski.

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