JOHN SOUTHWORTH and THE SOUTH SEAS with NICK ZUBECK at the Tranzac Club, May 27. Tickets: $5. Attendance: 45. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
As a warm summer breeze swept through the streets of the Annex Saturday night, John Southworth transformed the bohemian vibe of the Tranzac into what felt like the cocktail lounge of a cruise ship.
Southworth certainly has his own nautical niche going, from songs of high-seas romance right down to the white Dockers and horizontal-striped Popeye shirt he wears while thumb-strumming his guitar like a ukulele.
Fortunately, he's able to steer clear of camp icebergs by a palpable sincerity in what he does. When he sings, it's tremulous and heartfelt, but in an anachronistic way it's as though you should be playing his records on a bullhorned gramophone. His South Seas mates, Jean Martin (drums), Andrew Downing (double bass) and Justin Hayes (guitar/harmonium) mostly just maintain Southworth's course with the occasional softly-picked guitar solo by Hayes.
You get the impression many of Southworth's colourful lyrics are born from feverish dreams. Introducing the waltzy pop number Pineapple Shoes, he tells of a slumbering vision in which he walks to Niagara Falls in search of love. There are even songs about other people's dreams, such as Applecart the tale of a starving sailor longing for apples as death encroaches.
But perhaps most vivid is his song inspired by a dream in which Pinocchio voyages on the Mayflower, weds Pocahontas and founds a nation in a bizarre revision of America's pilgrimage story.
If you're wondering what kind of mind dreams in animation, Southworth tellingly dedicated a swaying mellifluous ballad called Paint Your Little Pebbles to "anybody with an ounce of innocence left in their heart" amongst the candle-lit tables.
The audience held in steadfast, quiet adoration throughout the show finally burst at the encore, hurling various requests at the graciously obliging Southworth, who could have taken more advantage of the intimacy to interact, as there was often strained silence between songs.
Opener Nick Zubeck gave the audience some solid ground before Southworth's star-crossed voyage. Wearing a loose-fitting trucker hat, he played rural-tinged acoustic songs off his album Hiding Out And Laying Low.
Accompanied only by a double bass and his poignant, Nick Drake guitar parts, Zubeck's deep timbre filled the room. If Zubeck was the land and Southworth the sea, together you get a pretty fun little trip.