|Photo: Christophe Cohen|
Elkie Brooks takes to the stage of Richmond Theatre looking happy and energised, and clearly relishing the response of a very vocal crowd on a sunny Monday evening. “What a beautiful day it’s been,” Brooks says. “I hope you’re not too hot… I’ve had the air con turned off because it makes the instruments go out of tune. And it makes me go out of tune as well.”
In fact, there seemed no danger at all of Brooks going out of tune. Watching her effortlessly commanding the stage, her voice distinctively raspy, delicate, or declaiming, is a total joy. For all her enduring appeal, evidenced by the responses of the rowdy, loving crowd, it’s hard not to think that she’s been undervalued as an artist in many ways, not even getting a mention in Lucy O’Brien’s She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, for example. Brooks’s music touches all those genres, as well as blues and country, and she finds dynamic connections between them.
Like the great Barb Jungr, Brooks is one of those artists who's only improved as they've aged, and her palpable pleasure in performance is infectious, putting many younger singers to shame. She doesn’t rival Jungr for between-songs banter, but she has a similar ability to brilliantly focus a song as a dramatic experience, and her joy in rocking out (at 70, after 56 years in the business) is wonderful to see.
Most of Brooks’s biggest hits – “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” “Sunshine After The Rain,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – were placed in the show’s first half. Brooks has been singing these songs for years, but they still sound vibrant, she and her tight, hot band (bass, drums, sax, guitar, keyboards) keeping them supple and fluid and finding fresh textures. She saved “Pearl’s A Singer” for the second half, breaking off mid-song to introduce the band and then encourage an audience singalong. “Lilac Wine” was heart-breakingly vivid and intense; “Nights in White Satin” picked up ambient, prog-rock power; “Make You Feel My Love,” accompanied by delicate keyboard and bluesy sax, became a beautifully assertive expression.
Brooks gave full vent to her rowdy rock side with a stunning “Roadhouse Blues”, and the encore included three superb covers: Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” and, most poignantly, Prince's “Purple Rain,” bringing a great evening to a beautiful close.