Tim Minchin took his place at his grand piano, acknowledged the applause for a moment, then began to play and sing. “Nothing kills comedy/ like an arena,” he softly teased. We could all relax. He knew what he was up against, and was telling us he was going to deliver.
Well, a comedian needn’t worry about getting the atmosphere over to a 3,000 strong crowd when he’s backed with a 55-piece symphony orchestra, but Australian Minchin had a vision far beyond what many would have even been expecting.
All big hair and bare feet, in skinny jeans and tails, his twist on the concert performer reached a new high with this ambitious and beautiful show. He proved he had the comedy nous and the devoted fans to pull off a massive arena concert with some of the most outstanding production values a live event could offer. He set out his stall with his old song Rock ‘N’ Roll Nerd, and we were away.
The accompaniment of the Heritage Orchestra added a great new dimension to Minchin’s work. On tours gone by, a set highlight would be Canvas Bags, that would see him trying his best to mock a grandiose, Michael Jackson-rock star style charidee performance. He’d rip open his shirt and stand arms outstretched in front of a fan. There was, last night, no need for Canvas Bags. He was finally that OTT and daft as a matter of course. The jack was out of the box.
Like Metallica’s legendary S&M concert mixed up with the sort of big band, West End gig that would have Family Guy writer and crooner Seth MacFarlane wetting himself with excitement, it was hard to know what to focus on in this busy concert. If Minchin’s incredible lyricism and wordplay didn’t get you, the superb light show and top-notch orchestration would. Together, it made for the kind of spectacle you don’t see every day.
Tim Minchin is a firework of boyish charm and bad boy sexiness with a musical soul and a fierce intellect never far from the surface. In terms of material, nothing is off limits, with rational thought and atheism holding together his convincing arguments throughout. This was never more apparent than in his song Context, which began as a slew of racist, sexist insults until he realised there was another sheet underneath that expanded on the song, ergo turning lines like “I hate Jews/ And you should too,” into “I hate Jews who make and distribute kiddy porn/ And you should too”. Ah. Clever.
Eventually, after a stint of aggressive and rousing thought-provoking numbers including one very sarcastic yet jaunty piece about a conversation he once had with a fan who believed the power of prayer stopped his mother from going blind; an over the top, expletive-ridden rant on the Pope’s defence of paedophile priests; and a wicked lullaby from the point of view of a sleep-deprived father in which trying to get the baby to sleep he wished all sorts of ill fates upon it, he perhaps realised there was a need to lighten things up a bit and went straight into a huge, silly funk number simply about cheese.
There’s the charm in Tim Minchin. You know he’s near-the-knuckle. You know he’s saying things that shock, and are seldom, if ever, said aloud. But it is never, ever just for effect.
After hours of huge, madcap, epic orchestral jams, his two encores calmed things down comprising his more gentle and personal songs, including White Wine in the Sun, about missing his family in Australia at Christmas. The happy and devoted crowd rewarded him with three unsolicited standing ovations. Nothing kills comedy like arenas? Nah, not this time. Nothing slays arenas like Tim Minchin.