The predominant aim of the Adelaide Fringe would be to ensure that the Festival provides shows for all ages where audiences can enjoy a blast of pure and unadulterated fun.
Local bands, Gumbo Ya Ya and The Band Of Simple Dreams, certainly try to live up to this creed, and they both took to the stage at Norwood Live on Friday night to deliver their particular brand of fun to the large crowd of mature music fans who turned up for a chance to singalong and sway gently to the music of their youth.
The venue, however, did not seem fully prepared for the demographic who turned up to check out the show. Seating was only provided for roughly half of those in attendance, so many ageing, bone-weary punters had to stand for, what turned out to be close to, four hours – that is if you include the time spent queueing and waiting for the show to start at the outset. Printed tickets put the start time at 7:15, posters outside the venue put it at 7:30, and the set time poster inside the venue doors put it at 8:00pm, meaning a lot of wasted wait time was endured by everyone who had been queuing to get in for at least twenty minutes prior to entry.
The first band onto the stage was Adelaide’s legendary Gumbo Ya Ya, who, despite seeming a little rusty in places, delivered a well-received set of Van Morrison’s classics.
Whilst the crowd lapped up the set, and the energy of the band could not be faulted, I felt that they did not stay true to the spirit of the songs. Van Morrison has never been a flashy performer, and the power of his delivery comes from his connection with the deep feeling his songs evoke inside himself. Gumbo frontman, Eric Stevenson, chose to ignore the source of the songs’ emotional core and, instead, delivered the numbers chosen in an overt cabaret-style, replete with arm twirls and leg kicks, decked out in a bronzed lamé jacket – about as far removed from Van’s delivery and style as humanly possible.
Nevertheless, the setlist, whilst heavily skewed to Morrison’s early solo years, served up a generous selection of fan favourites and people were immediately singing along with hearty gusto to brass-filled versions of Jackie Wilson Said, Into The Mystic, Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do, These Dreams Of You, Wild Night, Caravan, Brown Eyed Girl and Domino.
The second half of the show was given over to the recently formed Linda Ronstadt cover group, The Band Of Simple Dreams, featuring the vocal fireworks of Linda Pearson up front with a collective of accomplished musicians behind her – whose number included members of Gumbo Ya Ya and local Eagles’ tribute band, The Bald Eagles.
Whereas Van Morrison mostly wrote his own material, giving a sonic unity to his canon of songs, Linda Ronstadt was simply a terrific interpreter of other peoples’ songs that she chose from a wide range of eras and styles. Hence, a broader range of stylistic options are possible for a Linda Ronstadt tribute singer. Given this freedom to roam, it is possible to choose a set of songs that covers pretty much the whole history of the first two decades of rock and roll – from Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, through to acts such as Little Feat and The Eagles.
Pearson said she was feeling a bit nervous about her performance on the night, but it didn’t show at all. She has all the raw power of Aussie blues howlers like Wendy Saddington or Allison MacCallum, and whilst she doesn’t necessarily possess the purity of Ronstadt’s sustained notes, she certainly didn’t hesitate in reaching for, and nailing, all of them.
The crowd responded energetically to the band’s songs from the outset, and from the very first notes of It’s So Easy the band retained their attention through a well-chosen set of uptempo Ronstadt favourites such as Just One Look, When Will I Be Loved, Living In The USA, Poor Poor Pitiful Me and Tumbling Dice.
Pearson was equally at home delivering the ballads, such as Desperado, Blue Bayou and the little heard Karla Bonoff song, Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, and she achieved the deft balance between maintaining necessary pub venue volume whilst still managing to convey the sensitivity and nuance that these songs demand.
The Simple Dreams Band delivered some impressively tasteful musical accompaniment and vocal harmonies, especially guitarist George Klironomos, who played some clever solo; and second guitarist and pedal steel player, Kevin Bergen, whose moments in the spotlight added important flavour to the band’s overall sound.
On this showing, The Band Of Simple Dreams second Fringe show, on March 14, deserves another big crowd to attend.
By: Ken Grady
Rating: The Van Morrison Show – 3 stars / The Linda Ronstadt Songbook – 4 stars
The Van Morrison Show & Linda Ronstadt Songbook was performed at Norwood Live at the Norwood Hotel on Friday, February 21 2020.
Tickets for Just One Look – The Songs And Sounds Of Linda Ronstadt, at the Domain Theatre in the Marion Cultural Centre, 287 Diagonal Road, Oaklands Park, at 8pm on Saturday 14 March, are available here: Just One Look