Melbourne Music Week likes to showcase things that are more than the standard live music performance, and Liam Finn’s show, Success, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is definitely that.

As I enter Cinema 2 at ACMI, a small crowd is seated and watching the screen, bewildered as a shirtless Finn is backstage, facing a wall of mirrors in awkward silence. For the next 9 minutes we watch him prepare for the stage in all the mundanity that entails. As he selects his outfit and dresses he does some impressive, if unorthodox, vocal warmups before heading to the stage. As he walks offscreen, he appears in front of us and sits at a keyboard.

After live scoring a short film starring himself and his brother Elroy, what follows is a live scoring of a series of vignettes. While definitely captivating and at times challenging, none of the visuals seem to offer any clear message, pushing more towards abstraction and absurdity. It’s art for art’s sake but unfortunately lacking in sophistication.

One particular film made me quite uncomfortable – an abused woman faces the camera and is bandaged by someone who may or may not be her abuser. This is intercut with footage of children practising tae kwon do and as the tension builds I hope for a climax that never comes, or at least not in a way that is satisfying. But as the films continue nothing else approaches this feeling and a lot of it reminds me of similar projects I undertook at uni.

The one saving grace of the project is the thing I came for, and that is Liam Finn himself. Despite the fairly shallow content of the visual, Finn’s musical accompaniment shines brightly. As he experiments with various genres and sounds, and seamlessly switches between pre-written material and brilliant improvisation, he envelopes the crowd who bear witness to what is a terrific and unique performance – even if the visuals were removed from the equation.

Wes Fahey

FULL GALLERY HERE

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