Wednesday, June 10, 2009
From the dilapidated neon sign out front to the deceptively strong martini and nodding knowing forty-somethings populating the scattered crowded tables, no better environment could be constructed in which to view this Australian soul legend, tonight promoting her 21st release.
Appearing from the dressing room door in mock surprise (there’s a lot of mock-expressions from Geyer tonight), she strides to the microphone with obvious relish and the crowd welcome her warmly. Following a brief plug for the album, she opens with a room-hushing Dedicated To The One I Love. Even those familiar with her voice and the song get a visible shock when it first comes; this guttural, rasping torrent of purity. The muscles of her neck stand out, her body a gently contorting vehicle for it. The end of each syllable punctuated, the microphone moves from her waist when she belts, to her lips a moment later, the perfect amount of reverb paints the size of the silence her voice just filled. It’s a simple and incredible effective tool.
Now in her 56th year Geyer is, as ever, doing exactly what she wants when she wants, with whom she wants and boy are we glad for that. The audience does get a say as to whether she should wear a Gossip Girl Queen Bee sparkly-headband - we vote no, so she puts it around her neck- we decide that her impromptu keyboard playing is a keeper. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child invokes the haunting clarity of Jimmy Scott’s version, with achingly behind-the-beat phrasing and an intensity that tears flesh from the skeleton of the original. Minutes later she’s joking about Paul Kelly’s timid personal home delivery of his song Difficult Woman, a tune now synonymous with her embattled career - and there’s northing more Australian than that.
Also covering Dan Kelly’s Nasty Streak (“I don’t know what it’s about, but he must have been angry when he wrote it,”) the audience give her all the freedom she wants, something she uses to stunning effect as she stretches out the final choruses. Geyer never seems anything other than totally relaxed, twisting and flailing as the mood takes her. It’s electrifying and reinforces what a world-class performer we have here. Midnight Train To Georgia draws an utterly galvanising performance, so much so that her legendary It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World following it seems only monumental in comparison. After giving us a quick lesson in how to reinterpret your favourite singers (“develop your own style, then use them for special occasions”), she undoes her advice slightly by adopting a Jamaican accent to cover Jimmy Cliff’s indomitable Sitting In Limbo. While the audience is happy to go along with mimicking her vocal flourishes and she is obviously having fun, there is no way to follow the previous two songs. As Bonnie Raitt said when she was last here “she’s one of the greatest soul singers of this or any generation, ladies and gentlemen, Renee Geyer.”