Last Friday night, Kirin J. Callinan triumphed over San Fran, Wellington in a rampantly eccentric and colourful performance, captivating the crowd with both humour and awe for a show unlike any other.
After being pulled from Laneway Festival’s 2018 circuit following controversy over his ‘public indecency’ at the Aria awards, the Australian singer has returned to New Zealand on a nationwide tour. With the recent release of his dazzling album Return To Center, Kirin was all set to bring his maximalist music and person to the live setting it was destined for.
A lone man facing the Wellington citizenry, clad in shower coat and tartan beret, Kirin opened with the shredding guitar solo of Signed Curtain, a grisly spoof of a rock song that could only end in comically twisted defeat: “Never mind, it doesn’t hurt / it only means that I’ve lost faith in this song / ‘Cause it won’t help me reach you.” Yet disillusionment was fleeting, quickly tossed to the wind by the outrageously dramatic EDM drop of My Moment; an act so vulgarly courageous it was beautiful.
With his booming and impassioned voice, medieval wardrobe, vigour for skateboarding, sexual fluidity, and roguish Australian edge, Kirin is hard to pin down.
From then on the show was an absurd thrill ride of extravagance, possessing character and sonic magnitude that words do no proper justice. With his booming and impassioned voice, medieval wardrobe, vigour for skateboarding, sexual fluidity, and roguish Australian edge, Kirin is hard to pin down. Approaching everything with an imaginative power that can either confuse or delight, horrify or amuse, intimidate or invigorate; I figured it was better not to strain myself trying to understand the man, and instead just appreciate the show in all its craziness.
Pulling from his debut album Embracism, Kirin seized the crowd with his visceral white-knuckled tales of masculinity and existentialism. A naked and throbbing exploration of male physicality, the title track heard Kirin hoarsely interrogate us across the shrill synths, “Body to the test / Against another man / Do you measure up? Or do you still have work to do?”. In a moment of torturous victory, we were commanded to overcome our crushing angst and unite, “You gotta prove yourself / Understand yourself / Show your strength / And Embrace.” The stripped back and haunting production starkly setting the stage for a spirited performance. Stand out Landslide was both touching and witty, a chilling lament to the pointlessness of it all: “We are dirt / Falling, falling with the landslide.”
Sonic innovation was often replaced by sheer spectacle, realized most fantastically in the explosive pop masterpiece of his album Bravado. Disgustingly rich 80s pop production unapologetically fused with contemporary EDM, music this ghastly never had a right to feel so good. At first a tentative fantasy of two cowboys finding harmony together, rave-fueled country banger Big Enough transcended to an epic celebration of universal love. All were received with open arms and voices by the pulsating crowd. Kirin was magnetic on stage, increasingly radiating glory as he steadily diminished in clothing.
A selection of pop covers with a life of its own, Return To Center held both life-affirming moments of grandeur and hilarious social commentary. The soaring crescendo of The Whole of the Moon saw Kirin’s first detour from the stage, gracefully swinging himself above the crowd’s arms to hang from the rafters, he captivated the venue from truly euphoric heights. Sampling news reports detailing his lawsuit, Kirin used the jovial jig of Rise to show the arbitrary nature of morals in the modern age: “I could be wrong, I could be right / I could be black, I could be white.” While the chilly folk ballad The Homosexual heard Kirin flip the script upon straight culture and expose the hideous contradiction of the “insecure Australian” with a gleeful wink: “the homosexual, they call me, it’s all the same to me / that spectre they projected, I will now pretend to be”. Full of cutting wit and an empowering unconcern, it reminded us that humour can take on any challenge, especially in such capable hands.
Towards the end of the set, Kirin shushed us to explain his recurring dream of opening his eyes at the performance end only to be met with an empty room. With the hope of fulfilling such visions, he requested the crowd quietly file to the back of the room during his next song and face away. Once dreams had come true, anything was possible. Literally skating to San Fran’s far end, unsuccessfully attempting several kickflips, and hoisting himself upon a table amidst the crowd, he crowned the night’s heroics with an awesome acapella edition of S.A.D., rallying the crowd around him with the intoxicating anthem. It was a momentous occasion.
The evening finished with The Toddler. Sweat pouring off his bare chest, no musical backing was needed as Kirin filled the room with a deep bellow. His voice was a fervent plea, a desperate bid for understanding, a lone assertion of existence sounding out through the night: “I’m not a baby, I’m a toddler! I’m the toddler!” I wish Kirin good luck on his quest and thank him for a wholly one-of-a-kind show.