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Cabaret review: Madeleine Peyroux

Cabaret Festival

Madeleine Peyroux is gifted with an apparently effortless voice, so often compared to Billie Holiday, with which she can jump with ease from acoustic roots music, to jazz, to quirky originals.

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It’s all so languorous that the New York singer/songwriter can seem disengaged. So it seemed odd when she made it clear at the beginning of this performance in the Dunstan Playhouse on Friday night that she wanted more from the audience – several times mentioning a lack of noise and engagement from the crowd.

The cultural cringe was complete for this reviewer when several audience members called out that “it’s Adelaide” – an apologia which was definitely not needed.

Given the gentle start to the show, with Peyroux ambling on so casually that it took the audience a while to realise it was her, and then moving into an acoustic bracket, it’s hard to know what she wanted apart from the enthusiastic applause she received from the usual polite, generous cabaret festival audience.

Peyroux began alone, accompanied only by her own skillful guitar on “J’ai Deux Amours” (once sung by Josephine Baker), “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues” (Bessie Smith) and “Trampin’” (Patti Smith) – thus traversing some of her personas as Parisian chanteuse, American blues singer, and indy songwriter.

Her excellent four-piece band joined her for songs from her breakthrough album Careless Love, notably her lilting, lovely version of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”.

Somewhat apologetically, she also previewed some interesting songs from her upcoming new album Anthem, including the title track – another restrained Cohen cover – the fun audience participation number “Honey Party”, and “Sunday Afternoon” – a lovely evocation.

It was all very classy, very cool, but a little emotionally distant, with one stunning exception: her bossa nova version of Cohen’s “Half the Perfect World” with its intricate, desperately romantic lyrics and a delivery that made me think she connected with every word.

The candles burned
The moon went down
The polished hill
The milky town
Transparent, weightless, luminous
Uncovering the two of us
On that fundamental ground
Where love’s unwilled, unleashed, unbound
And half the perfect world is found

This is what the Cabaret Festival is about at its best: beautiful, timeless, late-night music.

If only she hadn’t worried so much about the local mood, because, apart from that exchange with the audience, everyone I spoke to loved it.

 Read more InDaily Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.

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