7th July | Louisiana
Photos: Laure Noverraz
Talk about holding an audience in the palm of your hand. Kirin J. Callinan has just ordered his audience out the room and down into the bar of the Louisiana. He is now standing, belting out second-album track ‘S.A.D’ from atop the merch table. Feeling less a planned set piece and more the incidental endpoint of another of his show’s many tangents, it’s a snapshot of Callinan’s brilliantly untethered stage persona.
Callinan is touring off the back of recent album Return to Center, an 80s covers album recorded in the timespan of the Guitar Center returns policy. It takes a less curated trip round the decade, ignoring seminal labels and the great bands you’ve never heard of in favour of less-celebrated (see tasteful) cuts. For Callinan it’s a very personal album, one he feels represents him more as an individual.
Tonally, Callinan’s music can be confusing on record. He is a master at taking the piss. His use of empty pop tropes and Guetta-style EDM synths on 2017 album Bravado showed him drawing on material many alternative artists would baulk at. More humorous than a big joke, a look at the wild variation in his albums suggests they are projects in themselves, where humour is a by-product rather than a focus. Mining deeper meanings from his reference points whilst ensuring his tongue remains planted in his cheek is a large part of his artistic pull.
Tour buddies Faux Real make a great fit for Callinan, operating in similar territory. By this I mean that humour is included but not foregrounded. It is instead enmeshed with other aspects of their performance. The pun that is their name hints at the playfulness with which they simultaneously enact and ridicule arthouse tropes.
Their set sees the Arndt brothers dominate the space. Performing like two karaoke singers writhing forth from the imagination of David Lynch, they’re men possessed, intertwining as they throw extravagant shapes to their backing track. Musically they’re a fit for fans of Alex Cameron, directing eighties and country-inspired tunes down a track of flamboyant masculinity.
Following this and a brief interlude, Callinan takes to the stage, starting with the militaristic march of Opus/Laibach cover ‘Life is Life’ amid grandiose chord stabs. There’s a sleep-deprived delirium to how Callinan conducts himself tonight. He frequently descends into highly amusing ramblings, which indicate an intense touring schedule.
This does not lose the crowd – Callinan’s comedic timing could rival Stuart Lee over in Queen Square. It brings him a lot of goodwill, reflected in the manner in which the audience join in with his patter. In between these sketches the perfect pop of ‘Bravado’ is a welcome highlight.
When he issues the crowd back upstairs and initiates the meme inspiring ‘Big Enough’, the scream on the track is bellowed by all inside. It’s an incredible moment of catharsis and a fitting note to sum up Callinan. It’s a joyous moment which leaves those who join in empowered by its sheer ridiculousness.
See the video for ‘The Whole of the Moon’ here: