Gig Review: Dent May @ Pure Pop Records, 17th January

On Sunday, quirky American musician Dent May played an intimate set to about fifty fans in the small courtyard of Pure Pop Records in St Kilda, Melbourne.

All photos here were taken by me. Please do not reproduce them without asking permission.

I’ve loved Dent May’s music for a while now. It is the perfect combination of quirky, clever, and heartfelt. He manages to write lyrics that fit perfectly into the feel of the song, but yet are also very intelligent and at times humorous, without ever overdoing it and risking becoming cliched.

For those who have not heard Dent May before (scroll down for a song), he plays songs based around his ukelele, which makes him fairly unique. The technical name for his band is ‘Dent May And His Amazing Ukelele’, however he has only brought one of his other three band members to Australia.

I was very excited to hear he was coming to Melbourne, on a tour that included playing at a mini-festival at the Corner Hotel, a gig at the Empress Hotel, and this, an appearance in the courtyard of Pure Pop Records, a live venue which has played host to an impressive array of Australian and international musical talent.

First impressions of the venue were excellent. Pure Pop Record’s courtyard is an extension behind the record store, which included limited seating, a bar, and the ability to order food from a cafe inside. An indie record store, a bar, a cafe, and a live music venue: it is definitely a winning combination.

Naturally it was very cramped, as indeed was the record store: it was narrowly squeezed in between the two surrounding stores. But this was part of the charm of the place. People squashed into the courtyard, either sitting on benches to the sides or standing in the middle. It was very, very cool.

Fashionably late, Dent May and his bandmate (I missed his name) appeared on stage, armed only with a ukelele, a tambourine, and maracas.

After a very brief soundcheck, Dent May opened with Howard, one of my favourite tunes of his debut 2009 album ‘The Good Feeling Music Of Dent May And His Magnificent Ukelele’. It was immediately obvious that the sound in the crowded courtyard was excellent, and the very faint smattering of rain that was descending only served to add to the atmosphere.

Second song Oh Paris! was a definite highlight for me. It was one of my favourite songs of 2009, and it sounded even more amazing stripped back and live. Dent’s ukelele playing was of course impeccable, and his voice live had an added texture that doesn’t fully come through in his studio songs. Oh Paris! was just magical.

God Loves You Michael Chang, another favourite from Dent’s debut album, was also fantastic. Dent May had the whole crowd laughing with lyrics like “Michael take it from me, you’re still a champion. You’re so caught up in defeat, there’s nothing that can be done to turn back time, the trophy is mine for a while. Just give me a smile”. The song was dedicated to tennis fans in the crowd, who Dent understood had a big few weeks coming up.

The following College Town Boy also translated well live, as Dent once again got the crowd laughing by singing “He’s smoking reefer everyday now, his tastes are awfully high-brow. College town boy, get off your arse and do something”. After the song Dent conceded that the song was written about himself.

Dent even played his cover of The Four Prep’s 26 Miles, which he explained was the first song he ever learned on ukelele. I’m An Alcoholic was hilarious in its frankness, and Love Song 2009 was even more charming live than it is recorded. Closer You Can’t Force A Dance Party finished the set on a high, with Dent delivering yet more delightful lyrics.

Dent May was absolutely brilliant. His music is so heartfelt, quirky, clever, and funny, that he is just impossible not to like. His bandmate complimented him perfectly, sining backup vocals, providing a few extra instruments, and at times even dancing, much to the delight of the crowd.

Dent was also very likeable on stage, appearing gracious for the small but enthusiastic crowd. While the crowd was small, however, it was also about as many people as it was possible to cram into the courtyard. Dent was even more likeable in person- I was lucky enough to be able to have a chat with him afterwards, as he sat inside having a quiet beer after his set.

Sometimes you just have to be thankfully that you can experience moments like this: a lazy Sunday afternoon spent listening to great music in the small courtyard of a record store in St Kilda. It was a little bit special, and I’ll definitely try to make the trip to Pure Pop Records a few more times over the year.

Dent May is a unique person, and he makes unique music. Moreover, I feel as if this gig was unique. Although of course, I’d certainly have no complaints if Dent May sees fit to visit the courtyard again on his next trip to Melbourne.

Artist: Dent May

Song: Oh Paris!

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