Duff Odyssey: Sydney Vivid Festival 2017

Posted on 7th June 2017
Quite a Duffological week. From the interviews on 2UE radio and ABC-TV’s One Plus One, to a couple performances by Duff of a sample of songs from his 30-odd original albums, followed by an inteview at the World Bar, Kings Cross as Jeff Duff’s visage shone over the town in the iconic Coca-Cola billboard. All in the ordinary scheme of things for this hardest-working artist in the country, but a whirlwind for the simple fan.
So the Duff Odyssey retrospective was showing on two nights—firstly at Brass Monkey, Cronulla on the Friday (2 June), and then at Leadbelly (ex-Vanguard) in Newtown the following night (3 June). The first was something of a rehearsal for the second. It involved lots of banter with the small but adoring audience in this far-flung province of Sydney. Duff performed two sets, the second involving some Bowie classics, with an encore of Suffragette City. Duff could not oblige further; he had a midnight train to catch back into town. The second show had a bigger, booming sound, with a wildly enthusiastic audience; from where this punter was watching the show upstairs, the mosh-pit looked a total Bacchanale; a mayhem of ecstasy, especially through the climaxes of Duff’s Killing this affair and Bowie’s Young Americans and Under Pressure; and, of course, MacArthur Park. Here’s the songlist of Duff tracks (and that latter signature tune) from the Duff Odyssey shows:

Here’s a sample from one of the performances (at Leadbelly), Duff and the band doing Skinny Girls, originally as part of the Alien Sex Gods—here with Jak Housden on guitar, Glenn Rhodes on keys, and Ben Isackson on drums—making up what must be the most experienced, versatile and talented rock-band in the country. Duff introduced the song with some apology for any perceived misogyny (from misandrists?), explaining that he really wrote the song only about himself (!)
… and another sample from the Leadbelly gig: Duff’s original 1980s single I Want to be the Pilot, from his Lexicon album. There was also a later version on the Jeff Duff Orchestra album, and you can see Duff performing the song with said orchestra here. It’s a resounding, almost Scott Walker-esque (Nite Flights) song, with some searing guitar and back-up singing.
The talk with Paris Pompor (4 June) in a theatrette in the World Bar (ex Kardomah Café), Kings Cross was an intriguing, joyful and even controversial 84 minutes. To much applause and cheering from the audience, Duff reflected on the sorry loss of the Cross’ unique cultural venues and character as it has become gentrified over the years; but added that “change is the only constant”, and it’s not really the Lord Mayor’s fault. He also recounted some performance experiences over the years, including when he first performed in the Cross music/strip-clubs (the Groovy Room, the Whisky a Go-Go) as a youth in the ’70s, and (in the same category, surely) a romp with the TV-soap star Abigail. There were also novel twists and colourings to some of the classic anecdotes, such as the Ray Martin Show ban, and the Ballarat arrest. Also some thrilling news about a plan to re-record the Fragile Spaceman album with the Australian Symphony Orchestra—albeit thwarted, at this stage, by the Australia Council with their deplorable decision to reject Duff’s grant application to assist it (the first time he’s sought what would only be some fitting return from the Oz taxpayer for all the work he’s done for Australian cultural life). Also an anecdote—worthy of a whole NewsCorp article— about Leonardo di Caprio’s "anxious assertiveness" toward the guest-star Duff on the set of The Great Gatsby. Much thrilling, charming news, too, including about new shoes, new suit, and a new bedside bicycle.
abigailduff and di caprio in the great gatsby
Getting “straightened out” by Abigail, and “put in his place” by Di Caprio: A couple of the subjects of Jeff Duff’s talk at the World Bar with Paris Pompor

The event was apparently video-recorded and there are ample pix of the event on JD’s FB; perhaps I’ll upload my personal audio-recording of it, if it doesn’t appear elsewhere and seems kosher. Meanwhile, there’s this video-recording (from Geoff Schuck) of an intimate rendition of MacArthur Park with which Duff closed this engagement. He dedicated it to his neighbour who was in the audience. She applauded the loudest, and can be seen at the end of the clip, in her red cape, rising to her feet, as others just shook their heads in wonder, clapped their hands with what energy they had left, having truly melted away at the majesty of the performance.
And here is the Coca-Cola billboard appearance; filmed in the rain, as various tourists gathered about me with their own cameras to catch whatever speciality I was filming (!). (Sorry to not have video-recorded other episodes of this week; crowds can be so inhibiting, and filming everything can reduce the immediate experience of being there at all.)
And then, the next day, Fullers Bookshop in Hobart was finally seen to carry Jeff Duff’s autobiography, This Will Explain Everything. This Duffologist only had to reshelve the thing; not good enough to simply show its spine amid so many others; the whole cover must be displayed.
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– rodg.