Six unmissable gigs to see at Live at the Bowl this February

Six unmissable gigs to see at Live at the Bowl this February

Image by Mark Gambino
Words by Augustus Welby and Tom Parker

Spotlighting shows from the likes of King Gizzard, Archie Roach, Cash Savage and Vika & Linda.

Since early January, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl has been playing host to many of the best live acts in Australia. The Live at the Bowl series was conceived in partnership by Arts Centre Melbourne and the Victorian government and they’re rolling out another bumper selection of live music and comedy throughout the month of February.

Whether it’s dirty pub rock, heartfelt storytelling, gospel, Afro-fusion or stand-up comedy you’re looking for, February’s Live at the Bowl program has something for all tastes. The series has already made life in Melbourne feel a lot more normal and the six gigs detailed below are further proof that this city can be gloriously bountiful when a pandemic isn’t getting in the way.

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks and The Meanies

Cash Savage & The Last Drinks have unfinished business at Arts Centre Melbourne. The touring cycle behind the band’s 2018 opus, Good Citizens, was due to reach a triumphant conclusion at Boogie Festival last Easter. But it wasn’t to be and their biggest gig of the year ended up being a livestream event inside Hamer Hall.

Savage and her well-oiled cohort are an all-or-nothing proposition and the resulting Live At Hamer Hall LP confirms the sight of a punter-less theatre didn’t stop them from giving it their all. But Savage’s palpable urgency and the band’s unmatched blues-rock intensity needs to be witnessed in the flesh.

The Meanies formed in 1988, released a staggering number of singles on Bruce Milne’s Au Go Go Records and dished out a couple of Aussie punk classics in Come ‘n’ See and 10% Weird. But I knew nothing of this until seeing them onstage at The Tote one afternoon in 2012. It was the launch of King Gizzard’s debut album and they put on a BBQ beforehand.

The venue wasn’t yet packed but fewer than 30 seconds in, it was apparent The Meanies were somebodies. That wasn’t an impression drawn based on their senior ages to the headliner, but more a result of witnessing Link Meanie’s utter dedication to giving his body a thrashing on a Sunday arvo to a patchy audience of 20-somethings munging down vegie dogs.

Cash Savage and The Meanies play Live at the Bowl on Monday February 1. Tix here.

Vika and Linda

Australian music history would be vastly different were it not for the three-decade presence of Vika and Linda Bull. The Bulls were born and raised in Melbourne and rose to recognition in the late 1980s as co-lead vocalists in Joe Camilleri’s The Black Sorrows. After five years and three albums with the Sorrows, the sisters stepped aside to launch a duo career with 1994’s Vika and Linda. They’d go on to release four albums over the next decade or so, collaborating with the likes of Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Renée Geyer.

In 2020, the Bulls issued a greatest hits anthology, ‘Akilotoa, which was their first ARIA number one. They backed it up with a gospel album titled Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso), which developed out of the Sunday sing-songs Vika and Linda had been hosting on social media during lockdown. They’ll be bringing out the best from both albums live at the Bowl.

Vika and Linda play Live at the Bowl on Sunday February 14. Tix here.

Sui Zhen and Yusupha Ngum & the AFFIA Band

Melbourne-based songwriter and producer Sui Zhen makes music that’s so captivating and pleasingly kinked that it’ll continue to reach new ears for years to come. Zhen envisioned the thematic focus of her latest album, 2019’s Losing, Linda, after learning of her mother’s cancer diagnosis.

The personal trauma left a mark on the songwriting, but the album is less a confessional and more an exploration of the role technology plays in how we process complex emotions in the 21st century and the subordinating power of master narratives. It’s also a pop record that recalls auteurs such as Robert Wyatt, Cocteau Twins and Anna Domino.

Melbourne-based Gambian singer-songwriter Yusupha Ngum has spent the last couple of decades building upon the work of his late father, celebrated mbalax singer Musa Afia Ngum. Mbalax is a form of African fusion that has its roots in the culture-sharing griot tradition of West Africa while also incorporating electric guitars and dance rhythms.

With his latest project, the AFFIA Band, Ngum offers a contemporary take on mbalax that projects messages of peace and harmony.

Sui Zhen and Yusupha Ngum play Live at the Bowl on Monday February 15. Tix here.

Hannah Gadsby

Hard as one might try, it was hard to summon much enthusiasm for the umpteen livestreams conducted at the height of lockdown 2020. Live entertainment provides different things for different people – thought provocation, escapism, fun – but its foremost achievement is to make audience members feel part of something bigger than themselves. The sight of someone else trapped in their bedroom strumming away on a guitar couldn’t help but compound the sense of alienation.

There was a significant exception, however: Hannah Gadsby’s 2019 comedy special Douglas, which was released on Netflix in May 2020. Filmed live at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, Gadsby followed up the career-defining Nanette with something similarly acerbic, but not nearly as emotionally mangling.

So what can we expect from Gadsby’s Live at the Bowl performance? Some critical underlining of widely-held presuppositions, no doubt, but also some big, revivifying laughter. The lineup also includes Zoë Coombs Marr, Denise Scott, Geraldine Hickey, Jude Perl, Steph Tisdell, Vidya Rajan and YUMMY.

Hannah Gadsby performs Live at the Bowl on Wednesday February 17. Get around it here.

Archie Roach

Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why performance derives its name from Roach’s 2019 memoir. It’s an entrancing read, which should come as no surprise – in the 31 years since his debut album, Charcoal Lane, Roach has repeatedly deployed his literary gifts. It forms the backbone of such canonical compositions as ‘F Troop’, ‘A Child Was Born Here’ and the Paul Kelly co-write, ‘Rally Round the Drum’.

The song that started it all for Roach is ‘Took the Children Away’, a beautifully articulated tribute to the Stolen Generations, which remains utterly heartbreaking to this day.

Roach will be performing songs from the Tell Me Why companion album, which consists of re-recorded versions of many of his most revealing songs. The album’s producer, jazz musician Paul Grabowsky, will join him onstage along with a four-piece band including guest vocalist Sally Dastey of Tiddas.

Archie Roach presents Tell Me Why Live at the Bowl on Friday February 19. Tix here.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard got up to all kinds of mischief in 2020. As if the inability to take to the stage – including cancelled Red Rocks and Primavera Sound slots – sent this primal live beast into a restless spin, King Gizz went on to release a bunch of stuff, continuing to challenge their fanbase in the process.

Like a major music festival taking out pandemic insurance, KG were prepared for the downturn, and so came a documentary, numerous live albums, a studio record on top of bootlegger LP. With 2021 now here, and the pandemic having quietened enough for live music to proceed, Gizz can return to what they do best.

Taking to Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Friday February 26 alongside absurdist wizards Tropical Fuck Storm and a special guest, there’s no way of anticipating what might occur on that sweeping Bowl stage come summer’s third last day. One thing’s for certain however – KG are champing at the bit to play live.

King Gizzard and TFS come to Live at the Bowl on Friday February 26. Tix on sale from Monday February 1 here.

The Live at the Bowl series takes over Sidney Myer Music Bowl from now until April. Find out more here.