A curio of this first year in Melbourne has been the number of gigs I've attended by what journalists politely refer to as the ‘elder statesmen.’ I’ve seen two septuagenarians (Leonard Cohen and Rolf Harris), a pensionable Neil Young, Robert Forster and Madness demonstrating different ways to live out your fifties and a whole glut of 1990s bands now in their forties, with added lines and paunches.
Whilst there were thrills to be had from all of them – some nostalgic, some (in the cases of Forster and Cohen) still visceral - it’s fair to say that 2009 is not their time. If you follow the check list approach to life favoured by tourists who ‘do’ 18 European cities in three weeks then yes, I’ve now seen Neil Young. Still I can’t help but feel that I’d have seen something more interesting in 1972 than a workman earnestly ploughing the same furrow of guitar wankery.
I’m not complaining though, because when the secular, non-gender specific gods in charge of life’s deli-counter called out my number, standing there in a mucky striped apron with hair poking out the of sides of his regulation hairnet was Daniel Kitson, ready to serve up fresh 2009 in little plastic tubs. ‘Hello Sir. How may I fucking help you?’
Kitson is back in the country with his latest show We Are Gathered Here – which is ostensibly about death and the futility of existence but which is just as much about how much Daniel likes cake. Inspired by recent deaths in his family, Kitson weighs up the fear at our own inevitable passing with less tangible but far scarier thoughts about which monsters will come for him in the night when he turns off his light.
The crowd at the Athenaeum was by far the biggest crowd I’ve seen for a Kitson show, and far more eclectic than us cardigan wearing types who attended the run of ‘work-in-progress’ gigs at 3RRR in April this year. Despite the usual Kitson intro music (including Emmy the Great and Eels) the Friday night city crowd felt quite intimidating to me. Clearly not so to Daniel who flew out of the traps as quickly as a man who announces after ten minutes that the actual show will start in five can. Even a frankly shit heckle of ‘I can see your bald patch’ was deftly turned into gold; ‘I’m flattered that you only think of it as a patch, madam. I feel like you’re flirting with me…’
Kitson is quite vocal about comedians who rehash material year after year but even I was surprised at how little repetition was in We Are A Gathered Here, especially after the 3RRR run. The performance felt new and still evolving despite him having played the material across the UK throughout the northern summer.
I think it’s fair to say that We Are Gathered Here is a little less focused than previous shows. Towards the end there was a little too much circling of the bush before homing in and giving it a good comedy twatting. Perhaps this was understandable given the subject matter. Without being mawkish he clearly wanted to convey his affection for his lost relatives, but it did change the dynamic in the room as the night came to a conclusion. Still, a Daniel Kitson show is about more than belly laughs. He’s not enough of a pretentious wanker to say it himself but there is a warm philosophy that underpins his work – a sort of life-can-be-shit-but-it-doesn’t-mean-you-have-to-be-a-dick-ism - that is easy to embrace. I doubt he’d want to be seen as the poster boy of any movement but the laughs and thoughtful silences from the crowd suggest it’s a philosophy that lots of us agree with.
So how long will Kitson’s star shine for? Will there come a time when we’ll look back on 2009 and say I’m glad I saw him then and not now? Who knows… but as per the message which underpins We Are Gathered Here, it’s probably best not sit around worrying about it too much. After all there is cheese and cake to be eaten and tea to be drunk. For now let us enjoy the fact that we are here and Daniel Kitson is here and all is well.