Mama Kin at Northcote Social Club
Mama Kin compared her microphone stand to a penis, made an excellently complicated Harry Potter reference, told her mum to ‘put earplugs in’, twice, and swore repeatedly at her sister. She told stories about her children growing up, passive aggression over love songs while passing the salt at the dinner table, and having Disney-itis, a very serious condition whereby one has watched too many Disney movies and is waiting for someone to come and save them from a tower.
Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin) is famous for her electric stage-shows, where stories spill out of her between songs as often as swears and the music mixes folk and soul and funk in all the right ways. Thursday, April 11 at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne was special in a few ways – this tour is showcasing Mama Kin’s new album, Magician’s Daughter. It was also sold out, and in a musician’s hometown, at such an iconic venue, this makes for some magic.
Most of her family was in the audience – and were very much part of the show. When each of the band members got a scream after being introduced, Danielle turned to her sister at the front of the crowd: ‘Josephine! It’s not cool if it’s your sister yelling out all night!’ She got revenge by telling embarrassing stories on stage. Banter with her brother, Michael, who plays keys in the band, made me almost look forward to technical glitches. Untuned ukuleles, over modulated sound, a mic stand which ‘did not have a stiffy’ unless ‘fiddled with’ were all occasion for adorable interaction between the on stage siblings.
From Cherokee Boy at the start of the set to Was It Worth It at the end, Mama Kin showcased the scope and ambition of Magician’s Daughter, which is both darker and further from her folk roots than her first album, Beat and Holler. Love, death and spirituality weave their way through the album, and but it was through seeing them performed live that I realised what makes Mama Kin so wonderful. While she’s been compared to a lot of contemporary female indie/folk musicians, her songs are lifted by her honesty, by their refusal to be reduced to the twee. Danielle’s down to earth nature, both on stage and in her songwriting definitely add to this.
So do songs born in the love she has for her children. Two of the most powerful songs on the album, Red Wood River and I’ll Be Ready, came out of the love for Banjo and Jahli, and the stories she told before performing them made the fact that they’re standouts on the album seem part of this. She never trivialises the love she has for her kids, or her partner, but she translates it into music in an interesting way. Think of the least-shit couple you know, and how pleased you are that they found each other. That’s the weird-chest-feeling listening to Mama Kin sing about her family gives you.
Support act, Tom Spender, joined Danielle on stage for a duet mid way through the set, and they sung a song so pretty and heartfelt that it made me drift off in a sort of trance, dancing over rooftops in my mind. They’ve apparently recorded it, so keep an eye out. Danielle (pictured, right) compared it to an acid trip when Tom left the stage (followed quickly by an instruction for her mum for don earplugs).
Despite not being able to write a love song that’s not dark and twisty (the story behind the very sexy kind-of-love-song, I’m Gonna Do It), the dark and twisty love songs she’s churned out had obviously inspired at least a two people in the crowd. After explaining that we can all thank the Ministry of Magic for encores, and fixing her flaccid mic stand, Danielle got a bit flustered, not quite knowing how to get into something so awesome. She settled on the all-encompassing ‘Just…shit is about to go down’.
And it did. Someone in the audience had emailed asking for her to play one of her older songs, Coming to Get Ya, because it was really important in her relationship, and she wanted to propose, right before it. They didn’t get on stage or anything, because that would be awkward, but she got down on one knee and proposed and Mama Kin sung Their Song, and if anyone thinks they can top that for a proposal, they’re wrong.
The proposal song was followed up by Apple Tree. I know earlier I said ‘refusal to be reduced to the twee’ but this may be the one totally forgivable exception. It’s those moments where you want to close your eyes and make everything stop because everything is perfect, and starts with two kids climbing an apple tree and declaring themselves king and queen, after school. It’s wonderful, and catchy and that song I have on repeat at the moment and not at all on the new album, but you can download it here.
So, Magician’s Daughter may be amazing, and you should definitely give it a listen, or play it on repeat until your housemate makes you stop, but nothing can substitute for seeing Mama Kin live. This isn’t a perfect world – you can’t tell Harry Potter jokes, yell at your sister and compare things to penises on an album.