Palais Theatre: Eric Bibb

Eric Bibb has enough of a following in Australia to fill Melbourne’s cavernous Palais Theatre and to be begged for encore after encore. But that’s getting ahead of what was, on this occasion, a long, generous night of performance.
Palais Theatre: Eric Bibb
Palais Theatre: Eric Bibb Eric Bibb offers that most elemental of performances: he is an attractive man (in all senses) who sings a good song. He also has enough of a following in Australia to fill Melbourne’s cavernous Palais Theatre and to be begged for encore after encore. But that’s getting ahead of what was, on this occasion, a long, generous night of performance. The curtain-raiser was more than adequately delivered by local singer Liz Stringer with folk-inspired ballads sung in a sweet, pure and occasionally more bluesy voice. Her songs derived from place, seasons and – in the captivating The summer they slept under the pines, for example – family stories. Stringer’s sense of her own place provided a kind of connection with Eric Bibb’s songs – although it was Melbourne’s historic Palais that appeared to have the African American visitor in thrall. “Welcome to my living room” he smiled, at various points musing how two of his idols, Mahalia Jackson and Odetta, would have appreciated the space. And the references to “place” continued: Shingle by shingle was sung to express Bibb’s concern for Victorians affected by the bushfires, and there was loud applause for a new song, I’m building a new home – which Bibb said he’d sung at Camp Obama during the election campaign. As many of Bibb’s songs draw on America’s long tradition of gospel and blues, they were infused with new optimism in the light of Obama’s election – although fast-moving ballads like Stagolee and the new Get on Board had the audience as enthused as any traditional folk festival crowd (and indeed Bibb has several times been a popular visitor at Port Fairy). At times Bibb was alone on stage, but for most of the performance he was given fine support by drummer Larry Crockett and Danny Thompson on bass. In several of the encores they were joined by a Melbourne gospel choir, which added a power and depth to the performance – as did the large audience’s contribution to the Bibb favourite, The Needed Time. But Eric Bibb is a man of such musicality that he could have carried the entire show all by himself. All that was needed was more time – this was a gig you never wanted to end. Eric Bibb Palais Theatre, Melbourne 26 March

Suzanne Yanko

Monday 30 March, 2009

About the author

Suzanne Yanko is the editor of www.classicmelbourne.com.au. She has worked as a reviewer, writer, broadcaster and editor for Fairfax Digital, the Herald-Sun, the South China Morning Post, Radio 4 Hong Kong, HMV VOICE - and, for six years, ArtsHub.   Email: syanko@artshub.com.au