Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Journey through music history of Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Ian Dury, and Joe Cocker as told by Australian Stewart D’Arrietta and his band
Belly of a Drunken Piano is journey through the music of five influential rock giants: Tom Waits, Leonard Cohn, Joe Cocker, Ian Dury, and Bruce Springsteen. Through songs and storytelling, the audience learns about the history and settings of each of the songs. The music is performed by an accomplished band with Stewart D’Arrietta in front on piano, accompanied by guitar, bass and drums, all of whom add vocals to enhance the leads from D’Arrietta.
The songwriters profiled were influencers of the baby boom generation. Their music set a tone for a new sound – guttural, raw, powerful. Moving from the lighter 50s and 60s tunes with simple themes, these composers added exploration of the darker side of life. D’Arrietta describes the setting of each of the songs to give context to the audience. He fills in some history and tells us how and often why the song were written. We are drawn into the world of the composer to more deeply experience the music. And D’Arrietta adds his own original work. He is an accomplished crafter of words and music.
The setting feels like an intimate smoky bar but under a giant chandelier. The show opens with “We’re Gonna Party in the Belly of a Drunken Piano”, sung by gravelly-voiced D’Arrietta and enhanced with a soaring guitar solo. As D’Arrietta delivers each piece, we are further pulled into the dark night surroundings, the music heavy with blues. He sings music from films and tells their stories. He conjures up images of tough neighbourhood kids in Wait’s “Kentucky Avenue”. We “see” Springsteen as he is “In Love With a Jersey Girl”. We are struck and saddened by the irony of Cohen’s “Final Dance”, a song about the string quartet in the concentration camp that had to play for people as they headed to the gas chamber. And, of course, there is “Waltzing Matihlda”, not the one we expect, but the song by Waits about someone down on his luck.
Mostly D’Arrietta delivers the tunes in his trademark hoarse-sounding voice. However, when he does break out and sing in full voice, we discover that he has a lovely sound. His show last year at the Fringe was a tribute to Leonard Cohen, all delivered in that gravelly style. He could do more of his natural sound for variety. There are shades of Peter Allen in his style, reflecting their common Australian roots.
It is a masterful evening of drama, riveting music, beautiful storytelling, pulsating beats, outstanding instrumental breaks, and brilliant guitar solos, all woven with music of the boomer generation.