It’s a tricky thing, discussing musical idols. Especially those that have held that status for decades, because almost invariably, these artists disappoint as they reach the twilight years of their life. Their work, and moreover, their live performances can become an indulgence for both them and their fans resulting in both parties walking away feeling less than satisfied, and often, sightly uncomfortable.
Enter the ever-soulful Mr. Bobby Womack, living proof that conventions are made to be broken.
Touring Australia with his exceptional 13-piece band, the 69-year-old proved to a packed crowd at Hamer Hall that some things do in fact get better with age.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. Womack has made his name the world over for being one of the deepest souls in the world of RnB, able to transform a simple melody into an earth-shattering musical moment. Unlike aesthetic beauty, stage presence or even vocal talent, soul is one thing that only gets better and more prominent with age.
It’s as though every tragedy, every pain and every heartbreak the crooner has experienced in his 50+ years as a performer makes up the map of his musical being; something that can’t be said for many others.
Opening the night with his seminal hit ‘Across 110th Street’ the audience could be forgiven for assuming Womack was planning on getting the classics out of the way in a bid to play his newer songs.
Not so though. Throughout the seventy-minute performance the singer sprinkled newer songs, such as ‘Deep River’ from his latest LP The Bravest Man In The Universe with more established classics like “Please Forgive My Heart” and the seminal Sam Cooke hit “A Change Is Gunna Come”.
One of the most striking things about the show though, was the way in which the frontman interacted with his backing band. Having such a large supporting group of musicians is something to be wary of in terms of older touring musicians. There’s a tendency to either use the band as a crutch or to disregard them completely and essentially underutilize them. But to the enormous credit of Mr. Womack, he gave each member of the 13-piece band a time to shine, while ensuring that even in his frail state, he didn’t use them as a crutch.
As the set went on, the usually timid crowd at Hamer Hall (this is rarely the audience’s doing, but rather, when seeing any artist in a seated, formal venue, it’s hard to get up and bust your respective moves) got up and formed a respectful mosh pit of sorts, reminiscent of a scene from multi-day festivals. Most everyone was ecstatic, unabashedly dancing, and full of love. Indeed, one of the venue ushers commented that Womack’s gig saw the largest up-on-their-feet crowd he’d ever witnessed at the Arts Centre.
Come the end of the set, it truly looked like the legend wouldn’t be coming back on stage for what’s most commonly referred to as a obligatory encore. As the applause finally subsided and the house lights came on, Womack surprised his adoring revelers by returning to the stage once more saying “looks like I gotta a little more juice in me, ya know?”
After getting halfway through one of his more upbeat songs “I Can Understand It”, he stopped the band and yelled “I got less than I thought! Let’s just do a classic. My Favourite.” With that, they launched into a staggering rendition of ‘Jesus Be A Fence Around Me”. With one final, suspended note, the exhausted superstar left the stage
What the audience saw that night wasn’t a defamed idol or a musician that was more ego than soul, but rather, one of the truest, purest expressions of musical humility of most any other living musician.