After all these years, life is still an unsolved equation for Paul Dempsey; he has accepted, though, that his heart is a known unknown.
Something For Kate recently embarked on a 20-year anniversary tour. SFK frontman Paul Dempsey perhaps never reached the same heights as contemporaries Tim Rogers and Tex Perkins, but nor has he ever plummeted to the same depths.
Given that Dempsey is prone to speaking in maths, we could say that his standard deviation away from the mean is far from erratic; he produces a consistently high standard of music that is always all killer, no filler. This is perhaps because he only releases new music when he has something to say; it has been seven years between his debut solo album ‘Everything Is True’ and latest release ‘Strange Loop’. It has been worth the wait.
‘Everything Is True’ was a marked departure from Dempsey’s sprawling and angular Something For Kate compositions; it was heavily within the realm of the acoustic singer-songwriter. ‘Strange Loop’ has seen the two universes collapse upon each other.
Early in the set, he strummed the acoustic on early single ‘Idiot Oracle’. Towards the end of the set, though, he unleashed the opening track from the latest release, the heaving and crashing waves of ‘The True Sea’, returning to the themes and sounds that made him famous. The stabbing guitars of ‘Morningless’ could sit seamlessly beside any single from the SFK back catalogue. ‘Strange Loop’, the song and the album, demonstrate that he is now a painter with so many colours to his palette.
Dempsey’s stage banter is almost the polar opposite of his eloquent songwriting. He introduced ‘Fast Friends’ by saying that it was “about money and stuff”, when the lyrics deeply deconstruct the superficiality of material possessions. He is more specific about ‘Volunteers’: “It is about that quantum moment when you realise that you have fucked everything up; you were so sure and now you are not.”
It is a song that shows that he has learnt many things, but not yet how to avoid heartbreak. He sings: “How was I supposed to know, that I’d be the one to let you go.” One beautiful woman that has entered his life for the better is Olivia Bartley, who is better known as Olympia.
On the night, Bartley competed in the musical equivalent of the heptathlon, playing guitar, keyboard, maracas and singing backing vocals for Dempsey, while also offering up a star turn as the only support act. Bartley has that ineffable star presence that separates a talented musician from a superstar. Perhaps in homage to her biggest single ‘Smoke Signals’, smoke machines spewed vapour into the atmosphere, bathing her like the mother of dragons; with her blonde hair and swagger, she resembled a hybrid of Debbie Harry and Daenerys Stormborn.
The material from her debut album, ‘Self Talk’, is so intricate and layered, though, that it is very difficult for a three piece to replicate live on stage. She is a star that is worthy of a hefty entourage; being forced to juggle guitar, keyboard, lead and backing vocals all at once, while changing guitar effects in heels is a burden that this rising diva shouldn’t be forced to carry.
Soon her fame should ensure that she no longer has to work overtime. For now, though, an Olympia/ Dempsey double bill was the perfect amalgam of the best of Australian music, past, future and present. Who says we can’t have nice things?