FRINGE REVIEW: AN EVENING WITH BEEB BIRTLES OF ZOOT, MISSISSIPPI & LRB, AT THE GRAND CENTRAL BALLROOM, 2019

Beeb Birtles show at The GC on Friday evening was both a night of celebration as well as proving to be an occasion for melancholic reminiscing.

Before the band took the stage, for a two and a half hour journey through Birtles’ musical career, the screen projected the sunny, primary colour soaked, promo clip for The Monkees’ hit, Daydream Believer, in an affectionate tribute to their bass player, Peter Tork, who had sadly passed away just twenty four hours earlier. The crowd lustily sang the ‘cheer up Sleepy Jean’ choruses and then, movingly, applauded generously as the song came to its conclusion, only to be replaced by the familiar vocal harmonies and orchestral introduction to It’s A Long Way There.

The capacity crowd were immediately caught up in transports of delight as Birtles’ ring-in band of accomplished local musos (shamefully never fully introduced to us throughout the show) recreated the full signature sound of Birtles’ world-conquering band who these days, for legal reasons, should never be named (although, for clarity’s sake, we shall refer to them as LRB…)

The first half of the programme dealt almost exclusively with LRB tunes, with the occasional version of a Graham Goble & Beeb Birtles duet thrown into the mix, and whilst the likes of Witchery, Lady, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Everyday Of My Life and Home On A Monday were all offered up as crowd pleasingly solid versions, some of the other choices tended to fixate on the more mawkish middle of the road numbers that LRB were prone to releasing in their later years in order to satisfy the bland tastes of American AM radio programmers.

However, when Birtles introduced the first Zoot single, You Better Get Going Now, there was a collective rise in expectation and you could sense that there were just as many in attendance who were there to hear Birtles pre-LRB catalogue, as there were laid-back soft rockers, and this group were happy to at last get a tasty reminder of the sounds of Birtles’ younger and wilder years.

Hearing the energy and exuberance of the tune made me a little sad knowing that, immediately prior to Darryl Cotton’s short losing battle to cancer earlier this decade, the full Rick Springfield, Cotton & Birtles line-up of The Zoot were planning a full Australian tour – what a show that would’ve been!

After a short interval, the band re-emerged and suddenly it was like being at a different event.

After Reminiscing was over, the slower numbers were banished to the past, and in the final half hour, we were gifted some incendiary Rob Pippen guitar riffing as Birtles took us through Zoot hits such as One Times Two Time Three Times Four, and the Adelaide band’s still all-powerful final single, The Freak – complete with carnival carousel music opening – as well as some lively takes on the LRB tunes that people were waiting to hear most, such as Happy Anniversary, Help Is On Its Way and The Night Owls.

Amidst this flurry of up-tempo classics, Birtles did give us on one lengthy anecdotal intro to the only Mississippi song that featured in the set, Will I. Whilst this song would have had some questioning the social values that underpinned the song, it still came across as a great example of the naive and sincere simplicity that dominated Aussie pop in the early seventies and was a highlight.

Disappointingly, despite what the Fringe blurb has promised, Birtles did not perform Mississippi’s ethereal hit, Kings Of The World, which, clearly from discussions with other punters, many had been keen to hear.

The show had to include The Zoot’s awesome and powerful reinterpretation of the Fab Four’s Eleanor Rigby – and what a rendition they gave us! The crowd lapped it up, and were quick to give Birtles a mighty hometown standing ovation at the song’s conclusion.

Poignantly, the last song of the night was offered up as a tribute to Darryl Cotton, Birtles’ long departed best friend, and former bandmate.

The song chosen was, The Dream Academy hit, Life In A Northern Town, and one can only assume its significance lay in the nostalgic lyrical references to the early sixties and to the images the song contains of departures made without goodbyes. It was a beautiful version of the song which, bookended with The Monkees’ clip at the start of the show, left many of us ruminating on our mortality.

Birtles’ show lacked balance overall, but the last half of the evening made up for any shortcomings in song selection and performance flat spots that had occurred earlier on.

As he made his goodbyes, Birtles announced that he intends coming back for next year’s Adelaide Fringe, so if you missed his only show this year, buy tickets early if and when he announces a 2020 show – because, from the satisfied smiles and excited responses of the crowd as they filed out of the venue, nearly everyone who attended this show will be coming back for a second dose of Beeb!

 

Rating (First set): 3 stars / (Second set): 4 1/2 stars

 

An Evening With Beeb Birtles of Zoot, Mississippi & LRB was performed at The Grand Central Ballroom, in the Dom Polski Centre, Angas Street, Adelaide on Friday 22 February 2019.

 

 

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