Mikelangelo’s personality and charm is evident even over a bad phone line. In his latest shows the celebrated entertainer is performing a selection of albums from great musicians including Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. “I’ve got a thousand ideas swirling through my head at any given time,” says Mikelangelo. “And some of them come to fruition and others don’t. I thought I’d quite like to play some of the albums I used to listen to as a child. So I picked up the phone and called a venue that I like here in Melbourne called The Old Bar and said, ‘How would you feel about a residency?’ It was just such a pleasure, it came together very easily.”
It is an ambitious project – how does one do justice to these legends and their music? “In a way, because I’d listened to them so much, even if it was years ago, they’re all embedded in me. I think the challenge is how to relax and play my own version. It’s been surprising how creative the process of performing someone else’s song is. Unless you have your own style you’re just going to sound like you’re doing a shit version of that song. The only way as an artist you can bring anything original is being comfortable with your own voice. We’re all doing similar things to what has been done for many years before us.”
Mikelangelo remembers falling asleep to each of these albums, their music serving as a gateway to his dreams. According to Thoreau, dreams are the touchstones of our characters. What then of Mikelangelo’s character? “I think I used to fall asleep to [Nick Cave’s] ‘The Carny’. And my theory, years later, is that sleeping to this album it’s like you’re dreaming through this strange world. That must affect the nature of how your art ends up coming out.”
‘The Carny’ is one of Cave’s more unique songs, a story of a bleak carnival funeral for a horse named Sorrow. The album on which it’s found, Your Funeral… My Trial,is a dark and melancholic collection of music. “I used to listen to a lot of really intense loud music when I was young, so that album was almost like the beautiful album that I would listen to. Even though it gets rackety in the middle of the album it starts quite beautifully and ends quite beautifully. ‘The Carny’ has always been an inspiring track. I remember seeing Cave in the late ’80s at the Enmore and they played that and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ Even though I mostly play guitar I pick up the accordion for that one and play like an accordion waltz.”
Apart from his Classic Albums Series dates, Mikelangelo will soon also be busy with his band, the Black Sea Gentlemen, filming scenes for their upcoming television collaboration with writer Elliot Perlman. “The Black Sea Gentlemen have been going for 13 years and we’ve done a lot of touring and shows in theatres. Even though we all came from a rock background, that group has always had a very strong performance base as well as a musical base. So there’s a whole mythological narrative behind the show that doesn’t always appear onstage, but it does inform the show, so it’s fertile for taking beyond the stage. We walk that fine line of truth and fiction, which I find incredibly enjoyable.
“Maybe we’ll become TV stars or maybe we’ll become roadkill on the side of the TV highway. It’s certainly an interesting project to be doing.”
BY JESSE HAYWARD
Classic Albums Series: Mikelangelo plays Tom Waits’Franks Wild Yearsand Leonard Cohen’sSongs Of Love And Hateat The Camelot Lounge on Thursday November 28.