Comedy Festival 2008, San Francisco Bathhouse
April 21 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

THIS dysfunctional ‘family band’ from Corstophine, Dunedin brings an original act to the New Zealand International Comedy Festival with their charity gala to raise money to send a South Island band of their choosing overseas. The four-piece band comprises Gary (Gareth Williams) on keyboards; Miri (Miriama Ketu) on guitar and fiddle; Arty (Arthur Meek) on lead guitar and Benny (Ben Hutchison) on bass. They are not bad musicians, as they range through a variety of pop and country-style music, even employing a tambourine in an over-zealous fake religious song, and they are certainly talented singers; some of those four –part harmonies are excellent.

Through the banter between songs, they introduce themselves. They witnessed their caravan burn to the ground; their parents are dead; and they are living on benefit having more kids than they can afford. This is particularly dubious as Miri, their half-sister, is now pregnant to Arty. He appears to be the leader of the group – by day – possum hunter; by night – possum hunter. Nothing is sacred, (with topics ranging from racism in Christchurch to the commercialisation of Christmas) and incestuous relationships are celebrated in their off-beat love songs.

Gary has recently returned from the war and is dressed in army fatigues ‘like a kakapo’. He sports a Victoria Cross; suspect because it isn’t even cross-shaped. His tribute to the love of a good prostitute, ‘Precious Betty’ is almost moving. Benny is the slow one with a dark side, ‘more cocoa than sugar’. He wrote a song that was too grim even for Nick Cave and he still smarts from the rejection, but it pales into comparison beside loosing the tender for the Interislander to the Warratahs. His offering, ‘The Wahine Was a Once-Off’ is a powerful piece of satire – I told you nothing was sacred. He goes to his happy place by singing a song about beans in order of their popularity from his solo album, ‘Mt Mungunui’; he’s a market gardener.

Some of the sharpest songs contain the most accomplished musicality. The mockery of charity songs for Africa, ‘The Price of Hope’ (‘Take a shower in my money; take a bath in my tears’) has Arty doing a parody of Justin Timberlake (‘It’s murder on my thighs’) and Gary using a superb falsetto as he sings ‘the Stevie Wonder part.’ The backing vocals on ‘The Life And Non-Smoking Death Of A Smoker’ are sublime. The band are contractually obliged to Marlboro to sing this song about the benefits of cigarettes (not only do ‘they make you thin; they make you cool,’ but also ‘babies born to smoking mums are quieter by all accounts’) in perpetuity, because Arty thought perpetuity was a small town in the South Island.

The encore is obviously a new (and under-rehearsed) number that the band sing ‘in utu’ for the warm response. As a rousing anthem to the Olympic team they encourage the hopeful athletes to let previous failures inspire them – ‘the rugby world cup; the America’s cup; every single mother-f***ing cricket world cup’. They are also exhorted to ‘spit on human rights,’ take as many drugs necessary and ‘don’t come back unless you’ve won’. This pastiche of motivational ballads is a perfect way to finish an entertaining and (mainly) accomplished set.