Above: Conductor, musical director and arranger for this concert version of Steve Kilbey’s new album ‘Sydney Rococo’, George Ellis.

Sydney. Love it or hate it, survive it, run an arts festival on it, be a creative in it; this city is full of elaborate, seemingly ornate challenges. Sydney’s designs on people, its  ‘rococo’  forms a contradictory backdrop for ongoing issues of heart, soul and head.

Steve Kilbey, elemental force behind the success of legendary Aussie band The Church. Kilbey’s smooth lyrical and atmospheric creation endures with beautifully challenging musical and poetic moments as a solo artist.

His discussion of the human plight within the textured design of our city is blunt and musically diverse. Even underneath the bright Sydney Festival sun he urges us to look after ourselves and others and not to view our physical or emotional environment through rose coloured glasses.

Kilbey’s songwriting since his days in The Church shows his continuing to be a down-to-earth creative, effective collaborator and consistently interesting poet.

With ‘Sydney Rococo’ Kilbey still suffers no fools or a city with an unhelpful facade. He wears his survival and humanity right out in his sleeve in this album and the storytelling is as varied as it is honest, with tracks titled The Lonely City and Distant Voices suggesting unhappiness in these fabled surroundings.

Instant standout track on the album is Nineveh. It was expanded to a lush soundscape by George Ellis and strings as the group nicely filled the City Recital Hall stage and acoustic

Heartbreak is gently explored in The Wrong One, one of the album and this concert version’s more tender moments, presented to the enthusiastic Festival crowd with an intimate colour and sharp edge of warning.

Environment was discussed in well-paced ornate rococo storytelling with precise instrumental gesture in both the title track Sydney Rococo and Lagoon.

Kilbey’s solid and true timbre in these tracks was well balanced and penetrated the space as well as our minds despite the intricate and full orchestrations of the dozen or so strings.

 Also successfully paced in the album and in this concert celebration was the brooding and measured song Achilles Heals. This track, with the contrasting  Nineveh suggests possible hit potential even on fist hearing of the album and especially in the arrangement for this event with the George Ellis Orchestra.

This track’s darker flavour and careful tempo is an effective portrait of struggle, akin to some past sentiments of The Church, but here performed with fresh attack and rich layers to the mystery.

This performance in orchestral fusion premiere was at all times a tight, slick festival presentation under dynamic direction of George Ellis. The combination of band with piano and strings was a substantial celebration of Kilbey’s latest outpouring.

This performance was elegant and ornate rococo commentary. It was  in turn gritty, then anthem-like, with shifting, surprising layers. A coda of a sequence of tracks from Kilbey’s classic past successes was an added treat for former and fresh fans alike. ‘Sydney Rococo’ has been an album on regular repeat for me since this concert.