For his first performance in Australia, Ian Shaw quietly slips in behind the piano while the lights are down and doesn’t leave it for the rest of the show. This is a one-man piano bar show that stands or falls on what he can deliver from the piano stool. He opens with a full on jazz cabaret number dripping with cliché, until Shaw himself pulls up the song and lets us know he’s having us on. He then follows with a very funny song about shit singers doing murderously bad versions of classic songs that immediately has the audience in his grasp.
Shaw’s between song banter is witty and clever, rapid fire humour that comes from a history of stand-up comedy. Much of it is self-deprecating, befitting a man whose figure owes much to his discovery of cheesecake as a teenager. He could just talk all night and be very entertaining. But he has a few other strings to the bow. He certainly knows his way around a keyboard, and some of the more serious songs showcase his incredible voice.
Advertised as playing songs from Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Rodgers & Hart, Shaw disappoints only by not performing any Leonard Cohen, promising to do so on the following night, leading to some audience members audibly wishing they had booked for the second show. But we get a powerful version of Tom Waits’ Take It With Me, and Hart’s I Wish I Were In Love is a perfect match. His love of Joni Mitchell is keenly apparent, having recorded an entire album of her songs, and he talks about her in reverent tones. In case we think he’s getting too serious or emotional at this point, Shaw rips into a biting parody of James Taylor, and the cabaret equilibrium is restored.
Many of the songs in tonight’s show have been written by Shaw, showing off yet another side to his talent. Again these songs demonstrate his rapid-fire wit, a song about the language of texting being a highlight. Whether they would stand up to repeated listening is another matter, but tonight he has put together an extravagantly entertaining show.