Once upon a time the Perth’s Funk Club was synonymous with the Leederville Hotel upstairs, the treehouse-like bar perched high on the street corner. Its peculiar layout was punctuated by vinyl booths, mirrors and chandeliers. Under the far disco ball, bands adorned with horns and velvet would furnish the air with robust grooves. That venue’s morphed in Babushka, and the Funk Club, like the proverbial hermit crab, has snuck out of one home and into a comparable one – Jimmy’s Den is an upstairs hideaway near the city, with requisite vinyl booths in tow. And having heard whispers of a raucously fun-sounding evening, I get my wrist stamped and climb the dim stairs, the throb and pop of syncopated rhythms growing louder with each step.
This is LADIES OF SOUL, a night where some of Perth’s most celebrated female songsters assemble to perform classic tunes by classic artists in the soul canon. When I arrive – an hour, maybe more, before the first live act appears – it’s already clear that people are really excited by the prospect. DJ MAMA CASS is sending high-quality anticipatory tunes into the atmosphere and the dark, already-busy room vibrates with a certain thrilled readiness. When the house band (led by esteemed tooters THE RUBY HORNS) enters from stage right, the response is vigorous. Then, when the first featured act – three-piece singing force LADYWOOD – follow suit, you’d think the crowd was welcoming lifelong favourites who’d travelled from far and wide.
In a sense, they are – because tonight Ladywood represent not only their excellent selves, but also THE SUPREMES. With impeccable style they glide into “Where Did Our Love Go” and chase it with the hefty “Keep Me Hangin’ On” (in which the band really shines). The vocal teamwork of Geetha Periakarpan, Farren Wood (who also organized this whole affair) and Carrie Pereira is as tightly co-ordinated as a team of synchronized swimmers, and their harmony/unison tripartite is super cohesive and special. There are a few moments of uncertainty, namely at the starts of solo lines in verses, which you’d chalk up to the fact that these are one-off “special occasion” renditions rather than regular repertoire. But no matter: the strong deliveries (which constitute the vast majority) make this a set to cherish.
RANDA (Aka Randa Khamis) is new to my ears, but evidently she’s been kicking goals locally and abroad for years – notably with her band The Soul Kingdom, who’ve released vintage-funk oriented bangers and toured with Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. Tonight, Randa is turnting it up as TINA TURNER, blasting off with “Nutbush City Limits” and bringing it home with “The Best.” Randa is a super-confident Perth soul ambassador with a crystal clear, consistently on point vocal style; an apt choice to fly the TT flag.
NATALIE MAE arises to tackle highlights from the catalogue of AMY WINEHOUSE. With Winehouse’s passing still pretty fresh in the general consciousness (and re-explored in harrowing detail in recent doco “Amy”) this set can’t help but carry a certain poignancy (even if the matter is never addressed on-stage). Still, Mae does an amazing job of channelling Winehouse’s fierceness and distinctive musicality, which is a way better way to honour her legacy than with a sombre reflection. The set is lush and streamlined, alternately moody (“Back to Black”) and vivacious (“Rehab”, “Valerie.”) This would have been a hard performance to nail, but it’s an undeniable success.
We’ve already been spoiled by a slew of skilled, assured and lively performances but nobody has quite approached the undeniable presence of ODETTE MERCY, appearing in her capacity of CHAKA KHAN. Her cool-as-ice banter, unpretentious crowd interaction, effortless execution and finely-tuned dynamic range makes this set wildly fun and instantly memorable. From the rollicking “Ain’t Nobody” to the all-up, all-in party of “I’m Every Woman,” it’s a total treat and a wellspring of positivity. Host Suzie Tuialii quotes her dad’s old mantra at the start of set (“She’s good, but she’s no Chaka Khan…”) the same could be said of most people, in relation to Odette Mercy.
But there’s no question of comparing or ranking the performers tonight: each Lady of Soul channelled her respective historic icon with talent, swagger, and evident love and respect. The band too (with arrangements by Brendan Grey, held down by the tight beats of Apache/AJ Wigwams drummer Dan Harrison) has been a spritely and well-oiled machine, a delight to behold. Amazing songs that have stood the test of time and amazing performers to reinvest them with immediacy, sincerity, in-the-moment energy and zeal: it’s worlds away from the unfortunate cliché of the dull, un-artistic, uninspired “cover band.” And the crowd responds emphatically in turn. It’s been an all-killer no-filler kind of Saturday night: a determined assertion of the soul at the heart of soul.