Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God

|| Sydney Morning Herald 12/05 ||

Sydney Morning Herald
December 5, 2005
Page 1 of 2

From Russ Le Roq to 30 Odd Foot of Grunts to Russell Crowe and the Ordinary Fear of God, the actor is devoting himself to music, Christine Sams writes.

For Russell Crowe, one or two words is never enough. When it comes to band names, he prefers a phrase: from previous band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts (TOFOG) to his new group, the Ordinary Fear of God (also TOFOG).

Actually, the full title of his current act is Russell Crowe and the Ordinary Fear of God. The Oscar-winning actor is keen to put his own name firmly in the spotlight when it comes to his music career.

What Crowe lacks in music sales, he makes up for in enthusiasm. He can command more than $US25 million ($33 million) per Hollywood film, but until the end of this month he will perform a once-a-week musical residency at the Vanguard in Sydney - a venue that holds an audience of 160. Crowe is not paid for the performances but, like any other artist at the venue, receives the door takings, says John Cass, owner of the Vanguard.

"It's quite surreal really, seeing this international movie star on the stage - but I guess he's just another musician expressing himself," he said.

This is not a short-lived attempt at a musical hobby over the Christmas period: Crowe has been working seriously on his music career for at least half a decade - with aspirations that stretch back to his teenage years in New Zealand, when he performed as Russ Le Roq.

"Probably the closest to me, and how I am with my family, is how I am when I stand in front of a band," said Crowe, in the same year he won his Oscar for Gladiator. Friends close to the singer say his passion for music has only grown since then, despite the fact Crowe has not yet gained the industry credibility he yearns for.

When he released his first solo album, My Hand, My Heart, earlier this year Crowe signalled his intention to perform a handful of gigs to showcase the new tunes. He has now opted for a full-blown tour - something he has done in the past with TOFOG - which will take in NSW towns including Coffs Harbour (close to home for Crowe), Byron Bay, Yamba, Newcastle and Katoomba.

It's hard to imagine Nicole Kidman strolling on stage at the Yamba Bowling Club to play a couple of tunes, but if there's one thing to be said for Crowe, he's not afraid to do the hard yards to take his music to a diverse audience.

He's the Oscar winner who will happily perform to crowds in Campbelltown or Newtown, as long as he can get people to sing along to his tunes. But radio exposure and sales seem to be the elusive factor in his singing career. (Although it's worth noting My Hand, My Heart is available only as a digital download and has attracted interest from web customers all over the world.)

Crowe's series of gigs at the Vanguard this month stemmed from a successful showcase by the actor earlier this year, when he played a "one-off" concert inside the intimate Newtown venue. For those who attended, the first surprise was getting a printed handbook of Crowe's lyrics before the show (this happens before each gig); the second surprise was how enthusiastically the audience was singing along to those words about half an hour later.

There's no doubting Crowe has a loyal audience at gigs, but it's hard to discern whether its because of his music or celebrity status (most would assume it's the latter). There are fans who regularly fly in from the US and UK for his Australian shows: "It's definitely good for the tourist appeal," said Cass. "But there is definitely the local element there. It's surprising to see people actually arranging their holidays around the Russell Crowe residency."

Although Crowe's gigs can be generally described as straight-out rock performances with a dose of musical swagger, there are moments of introspection.

Crowe's lyrics are often surprisingly candid. In the song Raewyn (co-written with Alan Doyle) which is dedicated to his aunt Raewyn Wemyss, who died in 1971, Crowe talks of his mother's grief at losing her younger sister: "How little do I know of the pain of my mother/If I'm now just thinking, what if I'd lost a brother?/How many nights has she lain awake shaking/ When I could of held her, shared the pain she had taken."

One gets the sense Crowe uses songwriting as an intensely personal means of expression, while in films he is expert at delivering the words (and tapping into the emotions) written by others.

In that sense, he seems eager to strip down the walls created by celebrity.

Who knows if he'll ever prove himself in the eyes of the public - and music critics. But Crowe will carry on regardless, because he loves what he's doing. He might have an Oscar and a mind-boggling personal fortune because of his skill at playing other characters, but with a guitar and microphone, Crowe seems happy being himself.

Russell Crowe performs at the Vanguard on Tuesday and December 13, 20 and 27.