Tim Minchin Live ‘On The Steps’
It astounds me how many people I know who have never heard of Tim Minchin.
‘Who’s that?’ A colleague asked when I mentioned that I would be going to his concert on Monday night. The vague interest in their eyes slowly morphed into confusion and fear as I proceeded to explain exactly who Tim was, with a passionate intensity I don’t often display in the workplace. Fifteen minutes later, they managed to escape my presence only after a weak promise to check out his stuff on YouTube. Another day, another possible convert to Minchin-ism. I do my best.
I was in the same boat as my hapless workmate only two years ago, knowing Tim merely as that guy with guyliner and crazy ginger hair who bangs away at a piano during comedy festivals. Then, in June of 2013, I went to see the Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour in Sydney, where Minchin as a dreadlocked Judas caught my attention. He had an amazing voice and such a compelling stage presence that I was constantly craning my neck to follow his movements on stage. His character’s eventual suicide was one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever witnessed in live theatre. Some of his previous comedy shows were advertised in the program, and intrigued, I decided to buy the So Live (2007) and Ready for This? (2009) DVDs. Since then I’ve devoured every song, TV and film appearance he’s done, including buying tickets to see him in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opposite Toby Schmitz at the Sydney Theatre.
The ‘On the Steps’ concert was the first chance I had to see Tim do his unique style of comedy live. It is possible that Tim is more famous now for his recent work as a composer, writing the music and lyrics for lauded musical Matilda, coming to Australia this year, than for his comedic work, his acting or his music. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his touch in any of those areas. On Monday night, with my fellow Minchin-enthusiast friend Emma in tow, I took my seat on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House for Tim’s show, which infamously sold out in ten minutes the day the tickets were released. Right on 8:30pm, that familiar glorious mane of ginger hair loped out from backstage, and Tim Minchin appeared in his trademark stage outfit; formal suit jacket and tie, tight jeans, bare feet and rock stair makeup to roars of approval. He threw double-handed ‘rock on’ signs to all corners of the audience, another nod to his ironic rock star stage persona, crossed to his grand piano, and launched straight into ‘F Sharp’ as his opening song.
‘On the Steps’ was advertised as a concert of Tim’s ‘greatest hits’, and it didn’t disappoint. The audience screamed at the first chords of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nerd’, ‘Prejudice’ and ‘Confessions’, hurled compliments and declarations of love constantly at the stage, and forgave minor key change errors and lyric stuff-ups, inevitable when a comedy show is simultaneously a concert with a six-piece backing band. The crowd was made up of hardcore Minchin fans, and it showed. Even in lulls, when Tim himself told people that they were free to buy drinks and go for a wee, hardly anyone moved, listening intently to less well-known songs such as ‘Drowned’ and ‘Beautiful Head’.
In between songs, Tim was in fine form, musing about whether or not our beloved Prime Minister gives up masturbation during Lent (‘What kind of porn does he watch?’), fending off demands he remove articles of clothing (‘I can assure you, only ten per cent of my fans want me to take my shirt off right now’), and improvising on the audience-provided topic of halal meat (‘I’m a Doctor of Philosophy … and Meat’). After another well-aimed dig at Tony Abbott, he observed ‘Looks like we’ve got a left-wing audience here tonight, at my show. What a surprise,’ to more cheers and demands he sire various women’s children.
Tim closed the main part of the show with ‘Dark Side’, with the understanding that the audience would call him back on for an encore (without which, he warned, he would come back on anyway). And the encore is where this show went from awesome to genuinely touching. After some discussion about the musical proclivities of his family, Tim shared an anecdote about one of his earliest memories being listening to his uncle Jim Fisher play at a bluegrass concert. He began to play his uncle’s song, called ‘Harbour Lights’, and then invited not only his uncle on stage to sing, but also various siblings and cousins, all equally talented with violin, guitar and voice as Tim is as a pianist. With Tim’s mother watching from the audience, the concert changed tone to a moving family reunion and celebration of music, which was amazing to see.
One of Tim’s cousins belted out a ballsy cover of The Rolling Stone’s ‘Shine a Light’, and then Tim, once again alone on stage, gave a soulful rendition of ‘When I Grow Up’ from Matilda, and a new song, ‘Seeing You’, from his unfinished musical adaptation of the film Groundhog Day. After screwing up the lyrics for the latter, Tim began the song again, appealing to his audience to make sense of the song. ‘Someone has to make sense of this,’ he pleaded, and in the dead silence while he played, we tried for him. He finished with crowd favourite ‘White Wine in the Sun’, made even more poignant by the presence of his family. After three separate standing ovations, with a wave of his hand and a sincere thank-you to the audience, he disappeared, the stage lights glinting off his wild hair the last thing we saw.
Until the next time Tim comes back to Australia, I’ll have to content myself with spreading his material slowly and insidiously through my friends and workmates until all fall under his spell. In the meantime, Tony Abbott should seriously consider giving Tim a knighthood. Tim approves of the idea (only if he gets an actual suit of armour, however) and he’s just as British, and not half as ridiculous a choice as the last guy we gave it to.
[This is a copy of an article written for Aphra Magazine and published February 27, 2015. Aphra Magazine unfortunately closed at the end of 2016 and all links to existing articles were deleted, so I have decided to reproduce these articles word for word on my blog.]
Images: Hannah Irwin