It feels like decades since some of us were last at shows and something like 50 years since a time when a touring artist might show up in our town. Remember? Just?
Which is sort of a neat segue to a reminder of what we’re missing, and what we’ll get back one day (We will, won’t we? Please?) as this 2010 show on the first tour to Australia from Idaho singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell sparkled like five decades of music squeezed into one night.
Sydneysiders may note this show was in a venue that doesn’t even exist anymore (Omen? I see no omen!). Everyone may note that Jewell was meant to be here last year until Covid intervened, but she’s already playing shows in the USA. So hope springs eternal.
Notes Live, Newtown. March 11, 2010
Picture yourself sometime in the late 1950s, maybe Chicago or Kansas City. Your night out is offering you some homestyle country, a slice of the blues, a little run of double entendre-packed nightclub fare, busy bee rockabilly and some of that rock’n’roll stuff. In the one room. By the same act.
What’s more that one act is fronted by a petite blonde who seems so demure it looks like butter wouldn’t melt etc. Until she lets slip a sly smile, a dry joke and a song like Gotta Get Right which hovers between the whiskey bar and the altar.
And then closes the deal with some high times gospel that would go close to convincing Richard Dawkins (apparently there’s twelve gates to the city Richard, hallelujah!), a song with a rhumba rhythm which seems to have brought along its own smoke tendrils and as an encore, a medley of risqué Bessie Smith corkers.
It never would have happened of course.
Firstly, that kind of diversity in the one package was as improbable then as it is now. And secondly, any sensible promoter or club owner would tell you that there isn’t an audience prepared to enjoy all of that. Not then, not now.
Of course they’re right. Those of us who spent a couple of hours at the Enmore end of Newtown on this night know we just imagined the evidence to contradict them. Just like I imagined my friend, beaming and bopping, saying “there’s so much fun to be had here”, and the veteran guitarist Jerry Miller, stolid of expression but playing everything with casually brilliant flair.
Who’s going to believe that Boston-based Eilen Jewell and her band of quality players-cum-hardy travellers (having been on the road for almost two weeks in Australia they had driven to Sydney that afternoon and were driving to Melbourne the next morning, arriving just in time for soundcheck) did all that?
So we didn’t really see a show go from Loretta Lynn and Billie Holiday to the slow burn prairie atmosphere of Where They Never Say Your Name; from Fats Domino stylings and train track rhythms to a joyful bit of string band-style polite defiance like Rich Man’s World. That didn’t happen.
After all, it couldn’t happen. Not in the one show.