Ed Kuepper @ Brisbane Powerhouse, 14.09.13
By Miss Tiarney Miekus
It’s the 14th. So here are 14 pointers for the Ed Kuepper-uninitiated, drawn from his recent acoustic “by request” set at the Powerhouse (part of the Brisbane Festival).
- Ed Kuepper fulfils the acoustic set. Granted, many of the requested songs were already acoustic recordings. But what’s unique is Kuepper’s understanding that acoustic sets breed a particular response, requiring different treatment and temperament from a rock set. Acoustic songs can be barren compared to their original counterparts, but Kuepper avoids comatose replicas; I had the nascent understanding that acoustic sets aren’t always dull mimicries.
- Kuepper fosters intimacy. Then again, maybe it’s the Powerhouse’s theatre and stage design. Only 200 people watch Kuepper, centred in front of a red curtain, seated and relaxed with a six-string and 12-string to the side. Being offhand works in Kuepper’s favour.
- The lyrics of ‘Real To Me’ are written by Ed Kuepper’s wife; dark, ambiguously heavy handed, delivered with a graceful chorus.
- Ed Kuepper is a humorous man: naturally self-deprecating with distinct humility (although no one in Australia wants to be accused of having tall poppy syndrome – there’s a sure way to end a career).
- The Ed Kuepper crowd are a well-behaved, older assortment. Seated, disciplined, politely yelling requests. What a change, from The Saints to Laughing Clowns to… this. Does Ed Kuepper find it invigorating compared to 30, 40 years ago? How we all eventually settle down, become complacent, tired, long forgetting whatever IT was…
- But I really can’t think that about Ed Kuepper, because no one plays an acoustic guitar like THAT if there isn’t something malcontent beneath. Severe restlessness. It isn’t simply duty to the punk spirit that makes Kuepper strum like god making thunder, but a bigger faith in the ongoing liberal conscience – everything that The System continually represses and shits over. His music was once met with hostility and derision and you don’t forget a thing like that, do you?
- ‘Collapse Board’ is a Laughing Clowns song. (Of course it was Everett [that’s me! – Ed] who requested it tonight, after others yelled a slew of at least 15 songs. And Kuepper chose ‘Collapse Board’; what does that tell you?) The acoustic replication is an entirely new song; no saxophone, dreamscape opening by an e-bow and by god, you get why Kuepper initially ‘joked’ it was the saddest song in the world. Kuepper kills the logic that an acoustic song is a tame song.
- Sometimes the set goes lukewarm. Not humdrum, but drifting – like Valium: serene. An acoustic guitar can’t always snuff out distraction.
- There’s nothing within the set that I haven’t heard before. And yet, there’s something to be said in taking the familiar and avoiding monotony, which is perhaps one of the greatest artistic challenges of them all.
- ‘Rue The Day’ is the set’s magnum opus: acoustically lethal. Sound from one guitar ricochets of the walls and catches itself as the strumming builds and Kuepper is twisting and rocking in his seat, twitching erratically and you had better brace yourself for when it all crescendos because authoritarianism is crumbling and when Ed Kuepper gets impassioned it’s zero cool.
- The Request Set can be risky: lame, awkward, unfulfilling. Yet Kuepper has an easy rapport with his audience. He’s ironed out any awkwardness and handles hecklers with ease, maybe affection.
- It’s alluring to hear an artist’s take on their song. Kuepper tells us the “sad but true” story of ‘Ill Wind’: a “country hick who got caught in the big smoke”. A lover of b-grade movies, he went to California, Hollywood in the 60s and unable to see mirage from reality became involved in Satanic cults. He died: adrift in an illusion.
- Dynamics are the key and it’s only if you really goddamn feel the song you’ve written, understand it with every fibre, does it all instinctively flesh itself out in a live scenario; ‘Blind Girl Stripper’.
- Ed Kuepper has a particular singularity. A man so comfortable, so at ease, he has nothing left to prove about himself. But he’s also tense, curled over his guitar as yellow light illuminates his finely chiselled face, eyes closed for the tuff bits, as his structured vernacular seeps into every crevice when he sings ‘The Way I Made You Feel’. Whatever Ed Kuepper keeps doing people will keep being there, keep buying and watching, out of respect for The Icon, for the importance and weight the name now confers in Australian music. At the same time, there’s nothing co-opted about him, he’s not as ignorant or out-of-touch as other former punk rockers, not tempted by greedy commercialism; a man who’s escaped the music industry’s love of The Image.
Photography: Justin Edwards