Spotify Wrapped, wherein users of the app receive a vibrant recap of our most-played songs of the year, is almost upon us. The occasion is a fun, if not slightly embarrassing opportunity to recognise what vitalised or consoled us as we made it through another phase of our lives – going places, navigating relationships, dealing with feelings new and old.
Almost a Mirror, a show at Chapel Off Chapel that brought live music to Kirsten Krauth’s gritty yet tender novel of the same name (which follows a triad of musos from the 1980s until the 2010s) began with a question: ‘If you could make the soundtrack to your life a mixtape, what songs would you choose?’
Krauth asked the question as, surrounded by first-rate musicians, she stood at a podium in a glinting silver blouse, a disco ball in a sanctuary of nostalgia.
With ease and authority, Krauth read vignettes of her book about, say, Mona, a devotee of Australia’s alt-rock maelstrom as a teenager and, decades later, the struggling mother to a son. The character’s emotions are already expertly implied by the prose, but it was magical to feel them confirmed through coinciding instrumentation, as in when Mitch Power, on guitar, delivered a speedy thrum-like anticipation as we heard about Mona and her friends trying to gate-crash a recording of the TV show Countdown.
Krauth’s narration/regaling routinely gave way to fully-fledged covers of classics, including The Motels’ ‘Total Control’, fronted huskily by Sarah Bedak, and a gorgeous acoustic version of The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Love My Way’ by Charles Jenkins. Fiona Lee Maynard served as bassist, and lent her unique voice – at once tremulous and strong – to ‘The Unguarded Moment’, among other numbers. Josh Gitsham was, always, as solid a drummer as you could ask for.
But here was the best stretch of Almost a Mirror, the fiercest testament to how music can not only enrich literature, but harness something essential about the human spirit: a recollection of a Nick Cave concert at the Crystal Ballroom – a few people laughed with a wry knowingness when Krauth invoked this venue, which was once something like a cathedral for Melbourne’s post-punk scene– that seemed to lead to Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) embodying Cave.
In his rakish dark suit Simic twitched and whipped around the stage, gripping and dipping the mic stand, as if possessed. He and the rest of the ensemble thundered through ‘Zoo Music Girl’ and ‘Shivers’, dredging up the ghosts of young revellers, Krauth’s voice the eye of the storm.
The lighting was staid and nearly changeless throughout the show, which seemed a missed opportunity for another layer of evocation. But, all told, Almost a Mirror was a joyful and proficient tribute to some eternal facts: music can inflect our lives, unify us, and retrieve truths from a bygone time.
This year– even if it forces me to concede to my love of trashier tunes! – I’ll appreciate my Spotify Wrapped playlist more than ever before.
Almost a Mirror
Chapel off Chapel
With Kirsten Krauth, Sarah Bedak, Mitch Power, Charles Jenkins, Fiona Lee Maynard, Joshua Gitsham and Michael Simic (Mikelangelo)
Almost a Mirror was performed for one night only on 18 November 2022.