During “Rock and Roll Nerd,” a seemingly autobiographical song by musician/comedian Tim Minchin that kicked off his hilarious show at the Lobero Theatre on Wednesday night, he sings, “But you see the problem is / He always dreamt of being a star / But he learned piano instead of guitar / Which in the Nineties didn’t get you very far.”
While Minchin’s rock-and-roll dreams didn’t pan out, he has managed to become a star for his comedic songs and performances, particularly in Australia where he was raised, and Great Britain where he currently lives. He is slowly but surely winning over America, as well.
Minchin’s show alternated between amazing piano-driven songs and short stand-up routines, which typically served as extended intros to the next song. Minchin shines in both roles, with crazy red hair and eyeliner-enhanced expressions accentuating his delivery.
On the song side, take “Context,” in which he “accidentally” covers up half the lyrics to give a list of phrases like, “I can’t stand publicly breast-feeding mothers.” After awkwardly going through the whole song like this, he realizes his “mistake” and the lyrics become, for example, “I can’t stand publicly breast-feeding mothers / Who smoke cigarettes while they’re feeding.”
In “Thank You God,” he sings about the “omnipotent opthalmologist” better known as “God.” In “Lullaby,” he captures the frustration of an exhausted parent trying to get a baby to sleep, with things taking a darkly comical turn when he sings “your tummy is full of enough antihistamine to chill out a bull.” In “Pope Song,” he uses over-the-top profanity to call for more outrage over the Catholic church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse.
In “Prejudice,” Minchin builds up the expectation that he is singing about the N-word, but in the end it’s about an anagram of that: “Only a ginger can call another ginger ‘ginger.’” Of course, Minchin is, himself, a “ginger.”
A song of a different sort was the beat poem “Storm,” performed over a pre-recorded jazz track. This tells the story of a dinner party with a new-agey woman named Storm who trumpets alternative medicine. This leads to a battle in the classic conflict between science and religion, with Minchin noting that, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved.”
On the stand-up side, Minchin cracked up the audience by referring to his wife as his “vaginally-endowed life partner.” He also recounted being asked in an interview what his three guilty pleasures were. At a loss, he asked the interviewer how others typically respond, but was disappointed by how low their threshold was both for guilt and for pleasure. Typical answer: “ABBA.” Minchin said he was glad he inquired, since he was about to respond with something like, “Dressing up as Elmo and watching German porn” or “canceling my monthly payment for sponsoring a child so that I can buy another iPad.”
Minchin decided that his only real guilty pleasure is drinking wine, with guilt potentially coming from spending money on wine instead of using it to better the world. Savoring a glass of wine onstage, he noted that, “Nothing tastes as good as that sip of wine that could inoculate a baby against tuberculosis.”
For an encore, Minchin responded to a shouted request for ABBA by playing a bit of “Dancing Queen.” But then he launched into the moving song “When I Grow Up” from Matilda the Musical, for which he wrote the music and lyrics. This musical just won a record seven Olivier Awards and is set to open in New York City next year.
Keep an eye — and ear — out for this rising star who chose to play piano instead of guitar.
Rock and Roll Nerd
Thank You God
If I Didn’t Have You
When I Grow Up
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.