I’ve just returned from my first Mardi Gras
, whch for a generally bookish, retiring type is quite an achivement. I’ve always found Sydney to have a kind of frontier town vibe, with street brawls and wenches potentially spilling out of of ale houses. The former is quite accurate, of course. On our first stroll down picturesque Oxford St we walked past a pub, only to walk back two minutes later to find police tape, litres of blood and a broken bottle on the pavement. A few blocks down, a “police response unit” was attending to something unspecified but sinister. At this point a young girl walked past and screamed “Happy Mardi Gras FUCKERS!!”, which I think handily sums up Mardi Gras’ mix of aggression and festivity.
The actual parade (or at least what I could see of it behind two bitchy French girls on crates) was a mix of the heartwarming and the confusing. Heartwarming: Matthew Mitchell, police, firefighters, SES, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), various schools (!!) that had entered floats against homophobia, humanitarian orgs etc. Confusing: State Rail, Pump Water, and various other components of “the” gay lifestyle… There’s a complex mix of the commercial and the political playing out at Mardi Gras. Its got a highly political history, and its existence alone has a political effect. But on the other hand the gay lifesyle being embraced (by the sponsors more than the community orgs) is a narrowly defined one, heavily tied to consumption, drugs, drink, leisure etc. Which is fine, but interestingly, and judging only from the crowd around me (lots of families, mums, dads, etc.), alot of people were there to witness a spectacle of excess rather than to support equality per se.
At the afterparty, which admittedly was catering to a particular slice of the market, it felt like a zombie flick filled with shiny shirtless men, all gym-buffed, hair only in the right places, appropriate tan etc. Funny that in an event embracing diversity, everyone looked exactly the same. But anyway, my queer politics are horribly convoluted, and it is kinda cool that Mardi Gras can so thoroughly take over Sydney, even if the reality of it is just a little bit skanky. Oh, and the surprise guest was no other than Tina Arena, which brings me to the second part of my Sydney advernture…
Tina Arena, Live in Concert
I’ve never quite called myself a Tina fan, but I’ve followed her career from Don’t Ask days through Simon, the ultimate Tina fan. The latter part of her career I’ve found much more interesting, not only because some of her French stuff is really good, but also because she’s emerging as quite the survivor where others would have fallen quickly against the Sony sword. As in, after she lost her deal with Sony here she snagged a new one with Sony France, then went on to record Songs of Love and Loss independently and license it in Australia through EMI — its impressive watching her navigate the industry. It’s also been heart-warming watching her find her self (and career) in France, and return home re-born with a new style and confidence, which is a pretty compelling narrative (think Sabrina).
The tour’s in support of Songs of Love and Loss 2, which follows on (somewhat cynically, perhaps) from the first volume which, being covers-mad Australia, sold very, very well. Accordingly half the night was covers, and then the rest was greatest hits with a bit of French stuff thrown in. First of all, she really can sing. It’s rare to get her combination of technical proficiency and emotional range. Second, she has really, really, crazily obsessive fans. Thirdly, she is slightly unhinged. When she talked, she talked, going on about her “journey” from sleep overs in Dandenong to Prisian haute corture, but all in most profound way. As… in… everything… was… said… slowly… to… suggest… meaning. She also displayed a taste for Toni Childs-style earth woman dancing which was both endearing and unsettling. While my impression was positive, there was a sense that she’s probably better than this tour. It felt as if she was enduring an Australia that doesn’t appreciate that she really is a big star, albeit somewhere else.