I saw Max Savage perform a few years ago at the Wheatsheaf Hotel. As I remember, he was not headlining that Sunday afternoon and his name was barely familiar to me, but I walked away thinking “this bloke has really got something”.
Intriguing narrative songwriting, a strong voice and a compelling but understated stage presence came together in an interesting package, with songwriting influences from the early-middle Bob Dylan period and a panoply of other bluesy-soul catches tucked in around it all.
And then the man appears at the Cabaret Festival! This new show works perfectly within the clubby feel of the Famous Spiegeltent, with 80 minutes of original songs linked together by a poetic monologue that draws inspiration from beat poets.
The song “Hard Times, You Gotta Fall on ‘Em” opens the performance with a Ray Charles feel, then some of Savage’s repartee really brings the crowd in with him: atmospheric and evocative of nights in Hindley Street and wee hours’ drives on hot nights through the red-brick suburbs to the sea, clutching a paper cup of rosé all the way. We are onside with the guy and never leave that place.
Then there’s the eponymous “Nobody Knows My Name”, bearing echoes of Tom Waits; faces in the crowd are rapt. The work is classy, the band ideal.
Tom Kneebone and Django Rowe swap snappy solo guitar work on different songs, while the piano and Hammond man brings cheers with the melancholy hostility he pours into the domestic violence number “When Billy Gets Mad”.
Kiah Gossner, on stand-up bass, is cool and crisp, and Kyrie Anderson, on drums, is “the crown and definitely the anchor” all the way through.
There are songs of yearning and haunting memories: “Take me back to Mawson Street, and the warm terrazzo floor, that leads me down the hallway, up to your bedroom door.” But he’s never going back: “Let it all bleed into the paper”’ expresses the song’s feel of resignation in a Dylanesqe signature phrase.
Max Savage, and those of his band who collaborate with him, are true songwriting talents. The feel is an updated blend of jazzy soul blues styles, with even a subdued doo-wop section thrown in. The work makes some wry observations on the Adelaide scene (what a joy to have some meat in the sandwich of cabaret tribute shows) but would be relevant anywhere.
This show was a world premiere and deserves a reprise here and a wider audience beyond.
Nobody Knows My Name was presented in the Famous Spiegeltent for one night only. See all InDaily’s Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.