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LIVE: THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA – Perth Festival, 29 Feb 2020

| 5 March 2020 | Reply

LIVE: THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA – Perth Festival, 29 Feb 2020
Chevron Lighthouse, Perth, Western Australia
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Photographs kindly provided with permission by Jessica Wyld and Perth Festival

Perth Festival’s popup venue Chevron Lighthouse has done a magnificent job staging a takeover of the Concert Hall grounds and surrounds for this year’s line-up of Perth Festival’s musical treats. Food stalls and bars are scattered about, the entire area festooned with party lights creating a vibrant party atmosphere and, if anything, increasing the anticipation for tonight’s headliners, The Blind Boys Of Alabama.

If you’re unfamiliar, it’s time to go and do some homework. I’ll wait.

Okay – you’re back, so you know that the group was formed in 1939, has featured a fluid line-up of exemplary gospel and soul singers through the years, all of whom are visually impaired. They’ve won five Grammys, plus a special Lifetime Achievement Award. They’ve recorded with Ben Harper, Prince, Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel and more. None of them are spring chickens, nor the finest vocalists ever, but all are wonderfully sprite performers and know how to work a crowd, whether they can see ‘em or not.

But first, Billie Rogers & The Country Gentlemen, ploughing a sultry, moody, bluesy, jazzy country furrow that is so authentically Americana that it’s startling to hear her Aussie accent when talking between songs. Their lovely Cowboy Junkies-esque vibe is a perfect opener, and her backing band – featuring members of Tom Fisher & the Layabouts – are crack shots.

The four Blind Boys Of Alabama, resplendant in matching red and black suits, are led out by their minder/guide and set in their places, a chair behind each one’s microphone. Band leader Jimmy Carter good naturedly rasps, “we hope that when you leave here, you’ll feel better than when you got here.”

It’s this joyous good will that permeates their entire performance and is what has seen their shows described as “a spiritual explosion.”

Walk In Jerusalem, People Get Ready, Spirit In The Sky – these are spiritual songs, but the religiousness of them isn’t off-putting for non-believers. In short – one doesn’t need to be spiritual and god-fearin’ to enjoy their spiritual, god-fearin’ gospel. Rather, the uplifting nature of the music and lyrics is infectiously uplifting. Almost Home tells the moving autobiographical story of the Blind Boys and how they came to this place. It’s a thing of beauty.

Carter and his company seem frail at times, but that doesn’t stop them interacting with the audience, joking cheekily and even having a dance.

I Can See and He Knows lead into I’m A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord – Carter’s first recording with the group, dating way back to 1982 – Nobody’s Fault But Mine and Way Down In The Hole, from The Wire TV series.

Amazing Grace channelled House Of The Rising Sun, while encore finale, Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground is introduced with, “we had to change a few words to make it a gospel song,” and it fits in perfectly alongside I Shall Not be Moved.

The Blind Boys minder is back to shuffle Carter from one side of the stage to the other safely, and even takes him for a walk through the audience to their delight, and when the house lights finally came back on, we were feeling mighty good indeed, as promised. As with any great music, it touches the soul, lifts our hearts and for a little while, makes everything better. Thankyou Blind Boys, for a very special night.

Category: Live Reviews, Photo Galleries

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