Mikelangelo farewells Cave, Waits and Cohen

Mikelangelo plays the Brunswick Picture House this weekend. Photo Simon Schluter.

Mikelangelao | Brunswick Picture House | October 28 | 5pm | $25/$20/$10

It’s been six years since Mikelangelo first performed the songs of Cave, Waits and Cohen as part of his Classic Albums series in Melbourne

This early idea formed into a show and has since toured from Sydney to Townsville to Alice Springs to Edinburgh, clocking up a huge amount of shows and delighting fans around Australia and the world.

But all good things must come to an end, and the final Cave-Waits-Cohen show will play at the Brunswick Picture House on Sunday 28th October; a big thanks to Nick, Tom and Len for coming along for the ride.

It’s been a huge ride for Mikelangelo and we caught up with him last week to see what the project has brought to the table…

What is it about Cave, Waits and Cohen that inspired you to create a show?

I discovered the records of Nick, Tom and Leonard in my late teens, and each of them had a powerful effect on me as an emerging songwriter.

I’d grown up watching Countdown in the 70s and 80s; and then moved on to punk and new wave thanks to my older brother; Cave, Waits and Cohen were really the first musical discoveries I made for myself. While all three are very distinct singers and songwriters, they are each strongly visual storytellers and deeply romantic poets.

Their personal observations and feelings, and the characters they create, inhabit a world where gentle melancholy can move into absurdist humour, into gothic horror into profound beauty and back again.

Which songs do you sing? How do you step into them for your performance?

I’ve been touring this show off and on for six years, and during this time, the setlist has had different forms, but songs that have always appeared are Cave’s Into My Arms and Red Right Hand; Wait’s Downtown Train and Swordfishtrombone; Cohen’s I’m Your Man and Dance Me To The End Of Love.

 When I started touring the show, Cohen’s best known and most covered song, Hallelujah was not in the set. I thought there were enough versions in the world. A good friend pulled me aside and said, you have to do Hallelujah, people will be wanting to hear you sing it, find your own voice within the song.

I swallowed my pride and took on the challenge; now I think it’s one of my favourite songs to sin g, it really encapsulates everything that Cohen was trying to say about love, faith, sex, hope, failure and redemption, all in one song.

Apparently he wrote about 100 verses for Hallelujah over ten years, so the final four verses that made it into his studio version are distilled down to a very potent essence.

I also do a few of my own original songs in the show, that was a request from audiences, I think they were intrigued to hear my songwriting. So I tried including some originals, and turned out to give more resonance to the show, people can now hear the influences and how I have forged my own style.

They are all very much poets, What are some of your favourite lyrics?

That’s a really hard one, where to start? Each of them have written so many great lyrics!

I’m going to settle with Leonard, as these words encapsulates so much about songwriters and the way that we are all part of the same ancient, mighty river of music.

Tower Of Song: I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet, but I can hear him coughing, all night long. Fifty floors above me, in the tower of song.’ Leonard Cohen

These three songwriters have an incredible talent for melancholy – they make sadness so sweet – how do they do that? Why do you think we are so moved by songs of sadness?

I’ve always said that melancholy staves off depression. We need to allow ourselves to feel our own sadness and the sadness of the world, it lifts the burden and can be quite a relief. Trying to be happy the whole time can be depressing, it can make people suicidal, or at the very least, make you feel like you are somehow failing at life.

We all experience joy and loss, like life and death, like the seasons, they are all part of the same thing. I think that’s all there in melancholy, that bittersweet happy/sad feeling. I’m a very happy and fulfilled person, and I think a big part of that is because I allow myself to be sad when I need to, rather than letting it fester into more negative feelings.

My Dad has a lot of emotion and was never afraid to cry in front of me and my brother and sister. I’m really glad of that, thanks Dad.

It’s interesting, if you put them in a reality singing comp none of them would probably win! Their voices have a uniqueness that is such a big part of the song….how do you acknowledge this in the show?

Haha, you’re definitely right about that! The funny thing is, in general, I prefer hearing Tom, Nick and Leonard sing their own songs much more than listening to cover versions of their songs.

For me, singing and music is about emotion, vulnerability and connection, so if there something less polished or broken in their voices, that reaches me, and makes its way into my heart and my soul. As Cohen sung in his song Anthem: ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’

I suppose I acknowledge this by very much singing in my own baritone croon, I don’t go for the Wait’s huskiness or Cohen’s semi-spoken delivery or Cave’s penchant for melodrama, much as I love all of this in them.

I very much stick to the original melodies, but have my own delivery style, and by stripping the songs back to their bare essence, and playing them with a solo guitar or piano or accordion, it feels like the songs are reborn. A lot of people say they feel like they are hearing the songs again for the first time, which is great compliment.

How do you structure your show? Is there a narrative line that runs through?

There isn’t an overarching narrative, but there are stories that link the songs, and hopefully the ebb and flow how I put the show and the songs together will transport the listener into other worlds.

For the most part, I tell my own personal stories. In a way, the show follows the journey of my younger self, awakening into manhood, with all the conflicting and wonderful sensations that go with this.

I instinctively discovered the art of songwriting to give expression to these feelings, and the lessons these three men taught me with their records was like long distance education.

Beyond the musical and lyrical inspirations, the really important learning was how to be myself, to accept that my originality comes from a deep well within, and that my limitations are the foundation of my own style, to embrace this, and not try to be something I’m not, to find my own idiosyncratic authenticity, and two know that’s the place where my power is.

This is all going back over 30 years.

I’m 48 now, and I love returning to these songs that helped form me as an artist. It’s a very different feeling to singing the songs that I write, it’s hard to explain, but while touring this show for the last six years, I’ve learnt a whole lot more about myself, and my voice, so I’m very thankful to these three men.

What should we expect for your show at the Brunswick Picture House?

The Picture House show will be my final performance of Cave-Waits-Cohen, so it’s going to be a really special night.

I’ve loved singing these songs, but it’s time for me to give some more attention to my own babies. I’ve usually toured Cave-Waits-Cohen as a solo show, but to celebrate coming to the end of the journey, I’ve invited some close friends to join me.

I’ll be bringing a fabulous Melbourne accordionist and piano player, Dave Evans, who actually played with me on some of my first concerts singing Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen back in 2012. I’ll also be joined by a wonderful singer Pearly Black, who lives near the Gold Coast.

I’m hoping we’ll do a duet or two, Nick & Kylie, or Nick and PJ Harvey, or both with any luck. If you have any requests, it’s not too late, send me a Facebook message, just don’t ask on the night!

Fore more information, or to book tickets, visit: Brunswick Heads Picture House.

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