THE ARENA – MELBOURNE
NOW YOU SEE THEM, SOON YOU WON'T
STEVE MARTIN-MARTIN SHORT
STEEP CANYON RANGERS
STEVE MARTIN NOT SHORT ON STEEP CANYON FODDER
It was a nippy spring evening south of the Murray Dixon line as arsonists burned out unlucky country folk and fruit and fodder farmers up north and way out west.
But down south there was plenty of fertile phosphate for comedic acting duo Steve Martin and Martin Short at a spacious arena where basketball players were the normal tall story of the night.
Well, not quite.
There was our middle eastern suburban neighbour and Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush AC trying to swat flies a short handball behind this reviewer in the ticket collection queue.
Rush, besieged by what appeared to be elderly extras from the Midsomer Murders cast, kept his cool.
And, of course, did not join Prince Andrew, Peter Dutton, Bill Shorten, Chump Trump, Boris, the Clintons and Bunnings as butts, so to speak, of the headliners humour.
Martin, 74 and born in Waco , Texas , where thrice wed octogenarian Billy Joe Shaver now hangs his hat, and Ontario oriole Short, just 69, delivered these garrulous goods with gusto.
A sonic Sinatra soundtrack preceded the duo's arrival on stage for a slide show that reached back to well before Martin and Short met with Chevy Chase in the 1986 movie The Three Amigos.
It was a gag packed performance, catalysed by impeccable timing, not so pregnant pauses, geriatric gymnastics and facial fervour akin to local lass Dame Edna who shared her birth suburb with the latter-day digs of Rush.
Martin and Short have perfected their art in movies, TV shows, podcasts and interviews so we won't steal their thunder by repeating their lines here.
But it's worth noting they shared a photo of their arrival in Australia in a photo captured in the Sydney Daily Mail .
Yes, Short reminded fans, it was the older Martin, not the younger amigo, who was caught short by an ever-alert photographer at the steamy Sydney airport after a gruelling flight from the U.S. before their first gig in Perth.
That was just one of the many pictorial peccadillos that aroused an aged audience, many with canes and ambulatory accessories, interspersed by young fans eager to share the humour.
The duo, who have toured together for five years, delivered their repartee with superb sketches and spontaneity that would be the envy of the new generation of local coodabeen comics.
Sedate solo pianist Michael Farrell provided ample accompaniment for Short's comings and goings including his fingers jumped on by Short en route to the top of the grand piano for a skit.
But he was absent from his keys when Martin and Short mounted their organ in a state of unrestrained lust and unholy body reunion that Short quipped was their “almost me-too moment.”
Martin's humour and timing are internationally renowned but on Short's first Australian tour since 2011 the Canadian exuded an incredible energy that was accompanied by unrestrained perspiration early in the two-hour tryst.
His recollection of his meeting with elderly acclaimed actress Katherine Hepburn at 15 was indeed memorable.
So was his penile escape when he took centre stage on his Stepbrother To Jesus betrothal in a flesh coloured body-suit.
Short graphically demonstrated how he was prepared for his first movie role in a tell-all trailer with female body shavers and beauticians.
For those unaware of Short's pride in his timeless stealth weapon of mass distraction he chose his pianist, in matching body suit, in a daring double act to showcase his penis.
Yes, it was proof that Short's high energy routine, with amazing physical dexterity in a marathon when Steve took a senior's break in the wings, had left him in perfect shape.
MARTIN STEEP IN THE CANYON WITH RANGERS
Grammy winning banjo ace Martin has performed and recorded with the Steep Canyon Rangers for more than a decade but this was his chance to share them with his audience.
The quintet, or sextet when with Steve, is based in Asheville - not Nashville - and Brevard in North Carolina where nouveau outlaw CMA Award winners Luke Combs and Eric Church did their time in the beer and wine mines.
These Rangers didn't share their collaboration tonight with Martin on the hilarious Atheists Don't Have No Songs.
Instead they included Bob Dylan's early sixties war protest ballad Let Me Die In My Footsteps, The Speed That We're Travelling, Best of Me and When She Was Mine from their Joe Henry produced 13 th album Out In The Open on January 26, 2018.
In 2013 the Steep Canyon Rangers solo album Nobody Knows You won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.
The previous year Rare Bird Alert, their collaboration with Steve, was nominated for the same award.
They also backed Martin and Edie Brickell on their duet album Love Has Come For You.
Although those albums received minimal promotion and airplay here in the unlucky radio-country they instead scored prolific video exposure on Nu Country TV .
That's a short CV for the quintet who proved their multi-instrumentality from the moment they joined Steve from the wings as Graham Sharp joined him for dual - not duelling banjos - and vocal harmonies.
Lead baritone vocalist-acoustic guitarist Woody Platt, mandolinist Mike Guggino, Mike Ashworth on the box-kit cajon and new upright bassist Barrett Smith shared vocals with their maestro.
But it was fiery, frenetic fiddler Nicky Sanders who leaped across the stage with the stealth of a rampant roo who once again proved he was a hard act to equal as he added his vocals to the mix.
For those who wished to see the Steep Canyon Rangers do a much longer set this was a night too late after they debuted at the aptly named Spotted Mallard in downtown Brunswick with Yinnar, Gippsland, raised Golden Guitarists the Davidson Brothers.
This was the cream on the gateau for the comedy crowd who stayed until stumps in the shadows of the MCG and adjacent to where two footballer-boxers drew blood, gangsters and gigolos to Margaret Court Arena.
That bout, in the arena bearing the name of a former tennis champion and latter-day Biblical bell ringer, was sadly too late to be fodder tonight for Martin and Short.
The duo has collectively won three Emmys, five Grammys, a Tony, a Lifetime Achievement Award and a solitary Oscar that was subject of whimsical wit.
"It's an honorary Oscar," Martin said of Steve's 2013 Academy Award, "that's like the soccer participation trophy of showbusiness."
So how did Steve and Martin ensure their finale would not be forgotten in these mists of time?
They performed a self-deprecatory tribute to each other, replete with more big screen flashbacks, that was the pinnacle of a night to savour for Victorians who enjoyed their own victory.
And, no, we won't pinch their punch lines for those who have yet to catch them live.
But this show did feature three male audience members, plucked from their seats, to answer questions and emulate the three amigos in action.
It was perhaps serendipity that enabled Martin to discover his amigo was also named Steve - a lawyer by profession and a pony-tail purveyor of the grey persuasion at the finale of the spring carnival.
He did not appear destined for the knackery at career or show end.
It was a vast contrast to the demise of a colourful clown, waiting patiently in the wings stage left, whose arrival suffered dysfunction interruptus.
Perhaps the droll demise of a roadie less travelled.
Review by David Dawson.