BWW Review: MEOW MEOW'S PANDEMONIUM at Perth Festival
Meow Meow brings her unique brand of chaotic energy to Perth Concert Hall as she opens her three-night cabaret micro-festival Kabarett Haus as part of Perth Festival. She has invited collaborators and friends Rufus Wainwright and Amanda Palmer to perform in two subsequent nights, but Thursday night is all about Meow Meow in all her feline glory as she performs her show Pandemonium, backed by WASO and Pink Martini's Thomas M Lauderdale on piano, to a thoroughly rapt audience.
Pandemonium contains all the hilarious hallmarks of a classic Meow Meow cabaret show: false starts because her sets, props or costumes aren't working right or weren't in the budget, pulling men out of the audience to perform a wobbly kickline and do stage business that they are ill-equipped to execute, outbursts of German commands (e.g. "SCHNELL!!" when one of the aforementioned men moves too slowly), bringing a simulacrum of herself onstage to "perform" when she runs out of steam (this time it was a mannequin she wheeled on, rather than a blow-up doll), and of course, a crowd-surfing trip up the stalls and back. I've seen these bits done time and time again on various stages around Perth in her previous shows, and honestly, I don't know what special magic Meow Meow possesses, because it never gets old.
In reality, it's got nothing to do with magic, and everything to do with the magnetism of her character and the magnificence of her voice. Her pipes are as agile and as full of finesse as ever; her repertoire is impressive, from boisterous political tunes in many a foreign tongue to the most delicate of quiet numbers that require the utmost tenderness from the orchestra (under the direction of Meow's co-conspirator/composer/conductor Iain Grandage). She makes them all her own, adding her unique vocal nuances, dramatic flair, and excellent comic timing.
She welcomes Rufus Wainwright to the stage to sing "À quoi ça sert l'amour" with her, but not before he invites the orchestra and audience to wish Meow a happy birthday with the Birthday Song. Their duet felt a little undercooked; Wainwright referred to printed lyrics throughout the number, which lessened the connection between them, but no matter. It's Meow Meow's night anyway; her "Surabaya Johnny" is a mini-soap opera of epic proportions packed into four-odd minutes, and her cover of Amanda Palmer's "Missed Me" is wicked, frightening and whimsical ("an uncomplicated song" she calls it ironically), and her Jacques Brel is just brill. She masters every tool in her cabaret arsenal.
But there's one particular number that always lingers with me whenever she sings it, and leaves me with a sense of what Melissa Madden Grey, the woman from whose genius Meow Meow has sprung, might want her fans, admirers, and toy boys to remember at the end of the night. It's a tender, poignant song that she performs on a darkened stage, lit only by the torch she holds in one hand, mic in the other. The song is Patty Griffin's "Be Careful", which features the repeated phrase "All the girls..."; it touches on the notion of vulnerability, and asks the listener to handle the singer with care.
It's both a timeless and timely song, but its lyrics are also a good distillation of all the facets of Meow Meow's persona. Its place at the end of the show gently tucks in the loose and frayed edges left strewn about by the carefully crafted Pandemonium that has preceded it.
Meow Meow's Pandemonium was performed at Perth Festival's Kabarett Haus at Perth Concert Hall on 20 February, 2020.