The theatre lights dim. A single spotlight lights the stage. The inimitable Australian blues master CW Stoneking walks onto the stage in black suit and preacher’s hat. Like any well-mannered southern gentleman he is unfailingly polite and a man of few words, preferring to speak through his music. His main conversation centres on his songs themselves, ‘Gonna play some tunes now…and they go a little something like this’. Channelling his stage presence from a time long past, he bathes the audience in reflected light from his steel guitar and commands attention with his full-bodied vocals.
Opening with ‘Goin’ The Country’, Stoneking played a wonderfully rich set, including a number of tracks from his debut album ‘King Hokum’. A particular highlight from his performance would have to be ‘Handyman Blues’, a beautiful soulful lament to time spent working hard as a jack-of-all-trades. Another standout was the stunning ‘She’s a Bread Baker’, a love song of sorts enriched with a light touch of comedy. With gracious thanks, CW Stoneking quietly withdrew from the spotlight, leaving the audience alone once more.
It was then time for the lady in question to grace the stage. With a stage presence and musical performance best summed up by her shoes – simple, elegant and unassuming, Madeleine Peyroux is instantly entrancing. Accompanied by her three piece band Peyroux launches straight into the sultry blues of ‘Blue Alert’, her voice all smoky warmth and smooth layers. With a nod to CW Stoneking, Peyroux declared that seeing as we’ve had blues from the boy’s view of things, it was ‘time for some blues from the ladies side’. And boy did she deliver on those words.
Peyroux and her band made the audience feel at home, with the band themselves seeming to enjoy playing the music just as much as those who were there to listen to it. The night was like bearing witness to four friends who enjoy hanging out and jamming with eachother. Peyroux in particular brings a calm and joyful peace to the stage, displaying the feeling of contentment that comes from sharing her passion with others.
Performing a comprehensive range of songs from each of her albums, she provided a wonderful balance between her own original compositions and the most amazing covers a person could ever hope to hear in their lifetime, ranging from Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Randy Newman. Keeping up a comfortable conversation with the audience, she introduced her song ‘Careless Love’ and asked the audience whether they knew the story of this song. She expanded, ‘Have you ever been careless with something?’ The song then followed with rich soulful vocals, displayed effortlessly against a beautiful soaring melody.
On a night where Peyroux provided so many spine-tingling moments, it is difficult to choose the standout songs. Her selection of covers to perform and her interpretation of those songs were quite simply sublime. With ‘Everybody’s Talking’ she slows the pace, styles her vocals in deliberate and delicate fashion and creates a song that is like a work of art to admire and appreciate. ‘Half the Perfect World’ is a blues song with real meaning. Peyroux’s vocals are delivered with emotion and she conveys intimate feelings and thoughts with effortless elegance. Peyroux and her band provide the perfect balance between musical accompaniment and vocal performance, both are critical yet nothing is overcomplicated; everything is delivered with stunning simplicity.
One of the highlights of the night had to be Peyroux’s performance of ‘Smile’, which was delivered with heartbreaking beauty, conveying strength and fragility at the same time. Delivered with tenderness, and showcasing the amazing depth of her voice, Peyroux’s vocals were at their silk chocolaty best. Following this, and with a bow to the audience, the stage was emptied. Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait for their return.
Treating the audience to just a little bit more, the encore was a valuable addition to the evening’s entertainment. With a sublime performance of the jazzy ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, Peyroux uses perfect pace and an uncomplicated arrangement to conjure up visuals with her voice. The final song of the night was appropriately one of Peyroux’s French songs, ‘J’ai Deux Amours’, a beautiful poetic song during which it feels like she transports the audience to an intimate French bar where her voice is like red wine for the soul…By all means take another sip and savour the experience.