Project Description

ANDREW STRONG

@ The Canberra Theatre

11/03/2018

Live Review

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Reviewer: Benjamin Smith

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“The Irish are the blacks of Europe and the Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland and the North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once and say it proud- I’m black and I’m proud”. So spoke Jimmy Rabbitte in the 1991 film The Commitments about an Irish band whose members  questioned whether they weren’t a little white to be trying on the music of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke.

The success of the film was heavily predicated upon the considerable talents of its protagonist (or maybe antagonist) Deco, played by a young Andrew Strong. Twenty-odd years later Strong is still touring the music that made the film famous and introduced a new generation to soul music in a way that otherwise would likely never have happened.

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The first thing noticeable about Strong’s performance is that his incredible voice is untouched by the decades of use. His ability to hit the roof at will with a note is undiminished and his stagecraft has undoubtedly been honed by his years on the road. His capacity to interpret and understand the songs  in ways that go well beyond mere homage is clear from the first moments of the set.

The other thing noticeable about his performance is his incredible willingness to work for his audience. He and his big soul band leave nothing in the tank. Accompanied by his sister Strong is band leader in the old soul sense and controls proceedings with razor-edged precision. The show is not like many others at the Canberra Theatre where audience participation is sometimes slow in coming forward. Strong, in fact demands it. His shows are in every way intended to be a dialogue and even the most stubborn of audience members finds themselves on their feet an moving and grooving eventually. It is a celebration of joyous energy and by the end of the show both  audience and stage are spent but somehow left wishing for more.

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Perhaps the big surprise of the night was the opening act. Local-boy-made-good Moondog, who in contrast to Strong’s soul-fed extravaganza sat solo in centre stage and played blistering chicago blues. Unusually for an opening act he led the crowd in a sing-along of his original number ‘Fix Myself a Drink’. He regaled the audience with stories of drinking whiskey at Buddy Guy’s Chicago bar and run ins with Southern sheriffs and linked his set to Strong’s with a rousing performance of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” to which everyone sang and whistled. It was an unexpectedly powerful start to what proved to be a killer couple of hours.

If you can find a way to see either performer and their respective bands do their thing, I highly recommend doing so as a way to remind yourself what its like to let the music set you free.

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