‘Rare and Spine-tingling’ best describes the magic witnessed on stage tonight. Hearing our own treasured Australian artists’ interpretation of Jimmy Webb’s timeless classics was something very special indeed. What a stroke of genius from promoter, John Zaccaria, to suggest such a concept of shows. I remember being blown away by Webb’s tour last year and getting totally swept up in the lyrics, melodies and stories. After arriving tonight, and seeing the full setup of orchestra and band instruments on stage, along with Webb’s piano, I got a sense that what was about to happen would be just as fulfilling.
After a heartfelt introduction from Webb’s foxy wife Laura, we learn that each artist has personally selected the song they will perform for tonight’s showcase. As Jimmy Webb graces the stage, with his genuine and refreshing nature, he instantly makes us feel comfortable, like we are all old friends catching up for a drink and a yarn. I enjoy hearing the stories and know that we will get some more gems scattered throughout the night. Bring them on! I lap up getting a glimpse into this extraordinary talent and the life that Webb has lived thus far.
So who will be on stage first? It’s David Campbell, joining Webb for an intensely moving version of ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’. I haven’t seen Campbell live before and he delivers a gorgeous rendition of the song. The hairs on my neck are already starting to twitch and we’ve only just begun. I have to reign it in as it’s difficult not to get teary eyed, but when Kate Ceberano hits the stage with her beautiful interpretation of ‘If These Walls Could Speak’, I’m reaching for the Kleenex early. Ceberano’s vocals are glorious, her joy radiating the stage, as was every artist tonight. You could sense how chuffed they were to perform with Webb; our Aussie icons with their own personal legend. It is so thrilling to watch and hear, I can only imagine how they were all feeling inside.
Webb then chats about his childhood, his musical and Baptist Church roots, before giving us a solo of ‘I Will Arise’ and then a bursting version of ‘Worst That Could Happen’ with Jimmy Barnes, Campbell and Ceberano on end vocals. As they casually stood behind Webb, side stage left, it was like you had walked into a heavenly jam session; and this was another aspect of the evening that I enjoyed immensely. This theme continued with Webb and Campbell on ‘Where’s The Playground, Susie’ and Barnes on back up. Everyone was just gliding in and out effortlessly with their amazing vocals during these superb arrangements. Webb’s lyrics and melodies, with their unique layers and depth, suited this style of performing, and every artist picked their favourites exceptionally well. A solo Ian Moss on ‘Didn’t We?’ just made you melt. I actually sighed. Yes, I’ll admit it, I felt all gooey and reminiscent about how true romance is meant to be. I could have been melting in my seat and wouldn’t have a clue. I think having to take notes was the only thing stopping me from ending up on the floor numerous times tonight.
Next up was ‘Galveston’ with Barnsey smashing it! What great timing for a pick-me-up, and did you deliver! A classic, rocking country song, and the sweet camaraderie between Webb and Barnes was very touching. How fortunate are we to hear these ‘Aussiefied’ versions of Webb’s classics! I now have a different perspective of many songs and feel incredibly blessed to have been witness to this unique event. To send us off before intermission, we are treated to a Barnes and Campbell duet of ‘Wichita Lineman’… aaahhh exquisite.. not one rendition has been anything less than exceptional tonight. The venue erupts and, no doubt, everyone is waiting eagerly for our next set.
Ed Kuepper kicked off our next helping with a stunning and atmospheric ‘Preacher’s Son’. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Webb should be recording these as a special ‘Webb and Aussie Friends CD’. The next duet of Kuepper and Barnes on ‘Honey Come Back’ was brilliant and hilarious. Kuepper’s spoken parts were so entertaining, I could happily have another dose. Then, we were treated to a Webb exclusive. For the first time ever, played live, was a new song Webb composed for Jimmy Barnes, making its debut in Sydney tonight! With Campbell on back up, Barnes delivers the shiny new track ‘When The Lovin’ Was Easy’. How many great songs can one person write? The emotion and raw sensitivity of Webb’s songs are so captivating. There is so much packed into these compact, dynamite sticks of audio. The words, vocals and music of every song are sublime, and Ceberano and Campbell’s ‘All I Know’ was not just stirring, but lush and powerful. Next up we had Moss, this time without guitar, for a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’. Smooth and sexy, what else can I say? You had to be there… I don’t think I’ll be hearing that song the same since Moss’ performance. Brilliant is the only way to describe the on-stage musicians, working with our vocal legends, in the perfect acoustics of the State Theatre tonight.
I love Webb’s ‘Up, Up And Away’, so I couldn’t wait to hear this tonight. Such a cheerful song, it never fails to lift your spirits in even the bleakest of times. Webb, with Barnes, Ceberano and Campbell on backup, was just delicious. Fairy floss and lollipops all rolled into one, you want to jump right into that carnival vibe and fly away. And then the mood changes and we are on the California Coast drinking margaritas, as Campbell performs a piercing and dramatic ‘Adios’. Waves of imagery cross your mind, as they do with all Webb songs, and once again, you are somewhere else, living this virtual life. As every songs plays, you are infused, then extracted, over and over. Our next Webb classic of ‘MacArthur Park’ is such an epic version with Ceberano’s killer vocals and Moss cracking that guitar, I did actually forget I was in the venue. So drawn into the story and the theatre of this song, I noticed I let out a ‘whoa, that was full on’ to my friend. Again, the elation on their faces was a delight to witness. We were more than gratified with our night of entertainment, and seeing genuine happiness on stage added to the joy. Their exuberance was oozing.
What a finale with Webb, Barnes, Kuepper, Ceberano and Campbell on our last song of the evening, ‘Highwayman’. Another track that unfolds into a 3D journey of life, haunting and painful, but still so pleasant and uplifting; covered by so many revered artists over the decades, as are all of Webb’s songs. A standing ovation is the least that we can offer to show our appreciation as every performer makes their way back on stage. We drive home with that post-concert glow, all smiles and joyfully singing away.
Melbourne, you are in for a very special, goosebumps-inducing show on Thursday night. I know that once they see some of this concert footage online, there will be millions of envious fans from around the world. Although wishful thinking, it would be wonderful if this became an annual ‘Webb and Australia musical love fest’! Thanks to the charming Mr Webb and our home grown talents of Jimmy Barnes, Kate Ceberano, David Campbell, Ed Kuepper and Ian Moss. What a night!
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