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Irma Thomas at The Corner

Gig Review: Wed 20 Apr 2011

After seeing The Funky Meters and Irma Thomas, I’m convinced there’s something in the water in New Orleans.

It’s a something that infuses those New Orleans musicians with a certain charm and in the case of Irma Thomas, a certain charming transparency. Or perhaps that just comes from being 70-years-old, with a voice that could still blow heaven’s gate off its hinges.

It’s a something that creates a sense of laidback hospitality at a gig, to the point where Irma Thomas, having sanctioned requests, became determined to deliver, even if it meant restarting a song to get the right key, or flipping through a thick lyric book to find the requested song.

When Irma announced “Let’s do ‘Time is On Our Side’ and get it out of the way”, I did wonder if she would be phoning it in.

But you’ve got to give the lady some slack. She released ‘Time Is On Our Side’ in 1964 – unbelievably as a B-side (to the single ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’) and anyone who’s singing that song at 70 must be aware of the irony.

And any sense that Irma might be going through the motions at this stage of her career was overturned by the power and majesty of this soul queen’s voice. After playing ‘I’ve been loving you too long’, the band really hit its stride.

It was Irma Thomas’s first time in Australia – she and her band have come for Bluesfest. “I guess someone felt sorry for me and thought we’d better get this old broad out here before she kicks,” Irma said wryly.

The only evidence that this broad was old was in her devil-may-care attitude to performance – after starting ‘I’m Gonna Cry Til My Tears Run Dry’ in the wrong key, Irma started again, afterward commenting “If you don’t want no mistakes, just buy the record. This is why they call it ‘live’.” You just hope her band, who coped marvelously with the rapid-fire adaptations to the set list, agree with her hospitable approach.

There were so many highlights but for me ‘Ruler in my Heart’ and the band’s slow climb to triumph in the requested ‘I need your love so bad’ particularly showed off the spectacular soul voice of Irma Thomas. We were privileged to see her at last.

By Steph Francis

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