Fred Armisen’s Comedy For Musicians But Everyone Is Welcome
Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne August 30
Review: Greg Phillips

Unexpectedly strolling on stage at the advertised showtime was Olivia Bartley aka Olympia in turquoise suit and matching Fender Jag. I don’t recall seeing any mention of her name as support pre-tour however it was a pleasant surprise for all. Olympia’s powerful voice and candid banter was a welcome introduction to the night. Performing material from her new album Flamingo and finishing up with a stunning version of Bowie’s Rock n Roll Suicide, the short but sweet support spot did her reputation no harm at all.

After a short break, Armisen entered the stage unannounced and launched straight into his spiel. Using an iPad to cue music bytes, he’d set up situations we’re all familiar with, such as a community based video that features happy ukulele music, pointing out that ukulele players must be making a lot of money at the moment. His impression of a music fan dancing to a band with weird time signatures and trying to stay on their beat is hilarious. Covering a wide range of musical quirks, he spotlights the world’s most corniest music, the selfishness of classical composers, how Italian rock music is always slightly off key and how horn players only talk about money, before picking on guitarists and their annoying chord habits. A lot of the time, the utterings out of Armisen’s mouth were hardly jokes, merely observations but it’s the raw familiarity of the situations that had you chuckling loudly. Making us singalong to lyrics we’d never heard before but pretending we all knew them brought us all even closer together.

This show was always going to work in a music loving country like Australia and in particular a musician-laden city like Melbourne. Whether the audience knew him from SNL, Portlandia, Documentary Now, Los Espookys or any one of numerous Hollywood movies, from the moment he strolled onto stage, Fred was among friends. At times, rather than a performance, it was more like the most popular guy at a party with a guitar taking song requests and chatting freely with everyone. There was no sense of a line in the sand dividing the stage from the audience.

Out of the blue, Armisen calls Jeremy Gara, Arcade Fire’s drummer to the stage to demonstrate how some bands never know how to end a song. Without giving too much away for those yet to see Fred on this tour, his Phil Collins moment is a show highlight. Olympia returns to the stage to help Fred point out the ridiculousness of drumming with brushes and reappears for an entertaining sketch featuring Jeremy Gara and an audience member who plays in a band. Armisen finishes the evening with a few tunes from ‘made-up’ bands which have appeared in sketches on SNL or his series Documentary Now, urging us again to provide harmonies to songs many of us have never heard before and of course we oblige.

Comedy for Musicians but Everyone Is Welcome is a natural extension of Armisen’s Netflix special Standup for Drummers, which was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Comedy Album. While the Netflix special appealed less to a general audience and suffered from some flat spots, the broader inclusion of all musician types and music in general in the new material  made for a more developed show. The level of energy from tonight’s audience certainly contributed to the overall result too. As Fred told Australian Musician in his pre-tour interview, an Australian trip had long been a dream and the realisation of that tonight seemed to genuinely bring him a great deal of happiness, as it did to everyone in the audience as well. Come back soon Fred.

Armisen’s remaining Australia dates:

Book at Ticketek 132 849

Book at Ticketmaster 136 100

Book at Ticketek 132 849 or Enmore Theatre Box Office 9550 3666