Wednesday, April 16
Hugh Laurie won the audience over instantly with his schmooze, his shtick. We were there to see the actor having a go at music. And he knew that. He told us. It was a clever way of excusing himself too – and that was necessary. Because, sure, you could instantly be dazzled by his wit and charm, and that history of great film and TV work and could therefore forgive him this indulgence. He even talked about acting as if it was a former career – music is now the thing. We forgive him the folly because he’s passionate. It’s clear he cares about the music he’s representing.
A stunning band, and a repertoire of tango, jazz and blues standards, a charismatic frontman. What could go wrong?
Well, the opening brace of a feel-good New Orleans shuffle and hammy good-time rock’n’roll, punctuated by banter that bordered on a stand-up comedy routine made this feel a little forced, a little like farce even.
When Laurie relaxed into his role – as curator, as much as anything – the evening took on the feel of a wonderful celebration. He knows his strengths as musician too – or rather knows his weakness. Throwing to the wonderful backing singers to do the heavy lifting, Laurie was best at the piano, trap shut, his enthusiasm palpable, the song selection exquisite.
When he did sing – it was with all the effort of a man enthralled. But, given his day-job, the ultimate slap is that it just didn’t quite feel convincing. Some things don’t sit right. And Hugh Laurie singing Dr. John is like John Key serving a romantic dinner – however well-intentioned you just can’t feel comfortable with the end result.
Fortunately Laurie’s band was a constant marvel – he knew that more than anyone. Feeding us songs by Leadbelly and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jellyroll Morton and Bessie Smith, the purists can turn their nose up all they like; this was a winning evening of superb entertainment.
This review appeared today in The Dominion Post – I’ve reposted it here on Off The Tracks due to requests from people wanting to view it online