Nova Scotia-born, San Diego-based singer-songwriter Steve Poltz shouldn’t be alive. No seriously. He’s lungs have collapsed too many times to mention and he took a stroke just over four months ago on stage. It’s insane that the man can even stand let alone tour. And tour so relentlessly, at that.
Fresh from his debut at this year’s Port Fairy Folk Festival (where he received a multitude of standing ovations), Poltz is on his 14th run around Australia, and once again brought his charismatic blend of folk and fun to Brunswick’s The Spotted Mallard.
It seem like we unofficially adopted the 55-year-old raconteur back in 1999 when he first graced our shores with his overly energetic presence. Then he was known as the frontman of California’s The Rugburns or Jewel’s partner, co-writer and collaborator, but these days, Poltz is practically a one-man-show.
Not only an accomplished musician with effortless acoustic fingerpicking technique and a knack for storytelling, “Poltzy” (as he’s known) is an extremely spontaneous performer. The audience is never quite sure what he’s going to play and it’s obvious he feels the same way. Every gig is like a stream-of-conscious performance. But even more exciting – every gig is intimate. And special.
Poltz is very popular Down Under, but he prefers playing the bars, pubs and club circuit where he is let loose to interact with the crowd and be absurd. He has an energy and stage presence that transcends the gig, and if you’re lucky enough to talk to the man post-show, you get to see firsthand that there is no false persona with Steve Poltz. What you see is what you get, and boy do you get your money’s worth!
The Spotted Mallard on Sydney Rd is the perfect environment to see Steve Poltz in. It’s cosy and carpeted, with a small and slightly elevated stage flanked by a couch and an esky. Bounding out with exuberance that a man half his age would struggle to conjure up, Poltz warmed up with a ballad, ‘10 Chances’ and his trademark big smile. But he was just getting started.
Picking from an extensive back catalogue of musical material, Poltz tends to favour Chinese Vacation (2003), Dreamhouse (2010) and 2012’s Perth-recorded Noineen Noiny Noin (the name being derived from Poltz’s interpretation of how an Australian accent pronounces “1999”) live.
However, exclusive 2007 CD/DVD combo Tales From The Tavern got a workout on this tour, with the likes of ‘98 Pounder’, ‘Brief History of My Life’ and ‘Sewing Machine’ getting an outing in nearly every set.
The latter was a crowd favourite everywhere he went – a kooky steampunk tale for kids – and tells a story about a crazy man who sews children to the wall for fun. Developed from a 24-hour songwriting challenge, ‘Sewing Machine’ is Steve Poltz at his most expressive, emitting Edwards Scissorhands meets Coraline vibes. His eyes bulged as he commanded you to chant along with him “S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-sewing machine!” in the chorus.
I was lucky enough to strike up a friendship with Poltz down in Port Fairy, and much to my delight and amusement, was invited up onstage at The Spotted Mallard (alongside venue manager George) for a sing-a-long. Poltz picked the track only hours beforehand – ‘Ripple’ by the Grateful Dead – and got me to hold the lyric sheet. He referred to me as “a great writer” and “his little sister” before sandwiching me between George for a hug and a laugh.
And everyone else? Well, people will do crazy things at a Steve Poltz show.
Old women swear, middle-aged men howl and children giggle. His music (peppered with lewdness and anecdotes that border on over-sharing) is enjoyed across all generations. Each show is an exclusive invitation into Poltz’s life – the bad health, love and loss, his parents and that infamous Bag Of Porn from ‘In It For The Long Haul’ – and it is never dull for a single moment. Not one.
The following night, Steve invited me back to see him at The Flying Saucer Club in Elsternwick, and once again he got me up on stage to sing with him. We duetted on his kooky kid ballad ‘Hey Cat’ – for which I was required to provide the “meows”. Such an honour! I was known as “cat girl” for the rest of the night.
Steve Poltz is a musician and entertainer who genuinely loves what he does. He loves Australia and we love him. His source of satisfaction comes from you – the audience – and he will go out of his way to ensure you have the best and most memorable night out possible. And so far, he hasn’t failed.
Not bad for a 98 pounder!
Check out his hilarious Aussie swear word parody at the Blue Mountains Music Festival last weekend below:
Make sure you go and see Steve Poltz when he returns to tour Australia again in November. He’s one not to be missed!
*image courtesy of Mary Boukouvalas from What’s My Scene.