It’s hard to say whether the descriptor ‘jazz-infused comedy’, as listed on the Comedy Festival website, really does The Horne Section any justice. It’s best to state now that such a description fails to encapsulate this show at all, the heady, delicious juggernaut that it is. The Horne Section doesn’t really attempt to be anything other than a bit of fun, so if you like staying in your comfort zone, it’s not going to blast you into uncomfortable territory.

Six gentlemen in bright pink shirts and black suits walk up on stage and prepare their instruments – piano, bass guitar, drums, saxophone, trumpet, and for lead singer Alex Horne, the microphone. And what a talent that man has for making his audience swoon under the hypnotic silliness of his dorky tomfoolery.

While the band makes up any tune that’s called for, Alex spends his time either torturing individual members of the audience or miming to a slapstick recording of remixed pop songs. He’s also responsible for spinning the Wheel of Wonder, which is presumably intended to create a different show each night and allows the performers to avoid endlessly repeating the same schtick.

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While the other members of the band sometimes did let the boredom slip  (they had the tendency to look like they were just about to clock off from a day shift and catch a train home for dinner), The Horne Section is a clever, witty approach to comedy-with-music, which is not to be confused with musical comedy.  It’s an enigmatic blend of two mutually compatible worlds that audiences will happily lap up.

One thing that does appear consistent is the band’s happy dependence on other acts to add a new dimension to their show. The idea is that they invite two comedians to take turns utilising the improv skills of the band to enhance whatever skit they choose to use on stage. Wil Anderson made his appearance this evening, but unfortunately he proved pretty much incapable of thinking outside the non-musical box. He wasted the potential of the band by employing them as background noise  while he recited what, in all respects, seemed like a run-of-the-mill Will Anderson comedy routine.

But Des Bishop, the other comedian of the night, really showed the audience how to milk every aspect of such a rich self-promotional activity. He completely blew all competition out of the water with his hedonistic rapper fantasy. While the band tapped out a rap beat, Bishop pulled a volunteer singer up from the front row (hence arousing suspicions that this was a tad rehearsed, but nonetheless) and got her to sing the chorus to Michael Jackson’s ‘You Are Not Alone’ while he rapped out the Melbourne-centric lyrics he had scrawled out on a piece of paper. With his rough New Yorker accent, the impromptu feel of the event, and the cool nonchalance of a band that seems to bang out tunes like they’re making toast, it’s clear to see that when this concept works, it really does deliver.

See this show for the quirky British folk, led by Alex Horne, and supplemented by a reputation that allows this act to pull high-level comedians for guest appearances. Go for the serenading of an audience member as he is handed Tim Tams and VB. Just don’t go for a laid-back, moody jazz session, because you’ll walk out pretty peeved you actually wrangled yourself a classily executed, deliciously silly comedy act.

The Horne Section is playing at the Spiegeltent, Tuesday to Saturday at 10pm, Sunday at 9pm, until April 22nd.

Siobhan has her own blog called ReviewMania.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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