The Red Paintings
The Art Factory at Marrickville is an intimate venue for theatrical style bands with its generosity of width, depth and stage height coupled with reasonable sound technology and good lights when they choose to use them. Yet, it remains intimate and modest in all other respects and a perfect venue for The Red Paintings.
This gig was so rich in its ingredients, that the Vulture must first have a quick chuck. Let’s start by throwing up some cliché adjectives … oriental, dark, startling, soviet, passionate, arrogant, brutal, martially orchestral – a living, arty, space odyssey piece of musical theatre and acrylic vomit. After the first upchuck, it’s digestible, but Oh Em Gee.
Hey, don’t get the Vulture wrong. This is a good show. The stage presentation is fantastic in the true sense of that word. The musical band is decked out in eastern clothing.
Western girls with eastern makeup, lipstick and hairstyles, dressed in kimonos, playing their orchestral instruments next to bikini’d bodies in space helmets. Yup. Get yer head into the Mercury miso and Saturn sushi.
Western boys with stern imposing countenances; they are dressed in eastern robes, soviet or kanji type, priestly headgear. Wardrobe wasabe.
On a platform at the rear or the stage, two androgynous drummers site behind their tins and skins, their bodies blackened, their faces hidden as if attending a masquerade – masques fitted with coloured flashing lights. Two crazed insects wielding drumsticks and gongs obliviously over the living art scene construction site before them.
Adding to this strange scene, two semi-naked astronaut-like time travellers complete with fishbowl helmets lit up like Christmas trees stand, swaying to the music – one middle stage and the other duplicated up on the drum platform. Looney or lunar, it’s like some oriental, gothic, punk cabaret. Is this Art for Art’s sake? The Vulture was licking its lips … where was the carrion?
At times, the Vulture numbers man (who spends a lot of time at the footy), counted twelve players on the pitch including six musicians, two semi-naked astronauts being body-painted and their attendant body painters; then there were the two canvas painters plus a few lost souls, wandering spooks wearing luminous head and body cards. The Vulture was unsure how many gooks were on the bench, keeping the lights blinking and sound working or running on with the magic sponge to mop up the paint splashes.
Sole singer and spokesperson is Trash McSweeney. In fact, McSweeney is The Red Paintings. It is his creation and achievement. He is all-consuming and all-giving. If you took the Trash out, the show would be empty. He seems to have absorbed the collective charismas of all those on stage so as to project them through the prism of his singular personality. Nothing wrong with that, but the Vulture wonders whether anything valuable has been lost in the eclipse – between the consumption and the expression.
Whereas, an enthusiastic cadre of informed fans with re-engineered earlobes knew the music, the majority of those present reached the climax of their rapture only with a great rendition of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World”. We understand that McSweeney has performed that little ditty many times with Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls fame – and he does it so well indeed.
There sure is a lot going on – so separating the musical morsels from the powerful feast of imagery and effects requires some concentration. What the Vulture can say is that the music is laden with greenery, protests that touch on climate, greed and conservation all of which sits prima facie rather awkwardly with the art degustation on stage and eastern orientation.
It may well be that The Red Paintings can deliver the same musical experience with different characterisations and wardrobes for the musicians without impacting on the creative aspects of the show. The bizarre lights, luminous masks, moving pictures and astronaut body paintings will be just as comfortable in any context as the one that is one we saw, laden and layered as it was with noodles of Eastern promise.
Nevertheless, it just kind of works – and we left the Art Factory impressed rather than ambivalent, with plenty to remember, digest and talk about.