With an ensemble cast of family and friends at Transit Bar
If you imagine Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Elvis putting on a 4 hour cabaret show with a bunch of friends, you’ll be in the right ballpark for Mikelangelo’s return to the stage at Transit Bar this past weekend.
Mikelangelo is the alter ego of Michael Simic, a Canberra-born musician with a long and quite diverse catalog, most of which I listened to in the lead up to the show. 2014’s City of Dreams, an extended love song to Melbourne, is probably my favourite album. It starts with this mid-career-Leonard-Cohen vibe over an electro backdrop, detours into something like Marty Robbins doing 60s pop, then back again. Mix in guest vocalists and some Nick-Cave-esque anthems and you have a hell of an album.
Then there’s the albums with The Black Sea Gentlemen, and the surf x western album, which are as different from each other as they are from City of Dreams. You can’t help but get the impression that Micheal loves making music and has a lot of fun doing so.
I’ve just (re)discovered, while finding a clip of A Formidable Marinade, that he played with Amanda Palmer and appears on her Goes Down Under live album. It’s the album of hers that I’ve listened to the least, so it’s not surprising that it slipped my mind. But it seems I’ve been listening to Michael for longer than I’d realised.
Despite all that, I was expecting a fairly regular show. The set list - two sheets of butchers paper tacked the wall rather than the customary A4 sheet on the floor - should have warned me otherwise.
The night opened conventionally enough, with the Nick Munnings Band playing a solid, enjoyable set. Michael joined them on stage for the last part of it, and other than a fairly brief intermission and mischievous venturings into the crowd, that’s where he stayed for the next 3+ hours.
With a stream of different musicians coming and going, Micheal sang, played guitar and accordion, and wooed the loyal crowd with his enigmatic stage presence, stories and antics.
Anushka - Michael’s sister Anna - has a presence to rival her brother’s. I’d love to link to some of her work, but I can’t find anything. If you ever get a chance to see her live, I’d highly recommend it.
One of the very special things about the night was that it’s the first time that Michael, Anna and their brother Victor have all played together. Honestly, I was a bit nervous that I’d screw up the photos (especially with Victor being off in the shadows at the edge of the stage) but I think they came out OK.
Not only was it the first time the Simic siblings had shared a stage, but it was also Victor’s first show after losing the tips of two of his fingers in a workshop accident, after which he re-taught himself how to play. I’m no expert - my peak guitar performance was learning the main riff to Soundgarden’s Outshined - but he sounded pretty damn good to me.
After the briefest of intermissions (when I finally managed to grab a beer), Mikelangeo dove into the crazy waters of surf/western, and before long had shed the suit in favour of a lycra superhero outfit.
The whole ensemble ebbed and flowed quite seamlessly over the night, with Phil Moriarty, Mandy Newman and Anushka taking over vocal duties on and off and band members coming and going as needed.
During A Formidable Marinade, Mikelangelo got out into the audience, danced on tables and accosted Transit Bar’s David at the sound desk.
Towards the end, everyone got on stage for a deliciously lovely cover of Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love, which brought plenty of singing and dancing from the crowd.
Michael, so obviously thrilled with the night, closed things out with a lullabye to (literally) bring everyone back down to earth a bit.
I walked away tired and incredibly impressed. I’m grateful to Transit for having me again, and to Michael and crew for putting on an amazing show.