Night 3 performance. Pic: Kirstyn McDermott
Please, memory gods, don’t let this one fade: Johnette Napolitano
, bathed in blue lights, bare arms showing muscle and tattoos, sleeveless red-and-black gothic dress over black trousers, black hair curling freely around her face, funky top hat with shiny pins; there’s rain on the canvas roof of the Spiegeltent and the leadlight windows are aglow from without; she’s singing to the accompaniment of only her guitar, strumming a low stalking beat, her voice infused with a blues note — ‘going all Louis Armstrong on your arse’, as she says in a breathy undertone with a hint of chuckle — and the song is ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’, and it encapsulates everything, absolutely everything I’ve come here for.
Oh yes, I’m a fan, and last night — the first of a three-gig run — was a demonstration of why. That face, lined and shadowed with a life at the lower end of the rock biz, an uncompromising life, that voice that carries so much emotion; and then that cheeky peek from under the hat’s brim, the eyes alight and round with amusement and wonder, and she could be 20, or 12.
I love her shyness, her humility, her quirkiness, her freedom to make mistakes and to interrupt her songs to interject a comment or a laugh. I love the way she plays her way into a song and then — oh — she’s in it, and it’s real, rasping low notes that make you shiver, those highs that make you tremble. She looks, sounds and acts real — ‘I like … my stories true,’ she says at one stage, quoting a passage from her Rough Mix chap book, a smattering of autobiography and lyrics and behind-the-scenes that’s only crime is being too short.
Last night’s gig opened with the recent Concrete Blonde release ‘Rosalie’, thrilled with ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, then sent a frisson with a spectacular version of ‘Mexican Moon’ — some flamenco notes, some Spanish, all heartfelt.
She sang a song about a frog on a log that she wrote when she was 12 — pretty good little ditty, that — and the wedding song from the Aussie movie Candy, the first time she’d performed it, she said (‘I was shitting myself up here; I’m still shitting myself’).
It was a freestyle playlist, snippets of tunes here and there including a grab of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ , anecdotes, requests, stretching back across her bands (primarily Concrete Blonde, her most successful venture) and solo work.
The Pretty & Twisted tune ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ was stunning on the piano. There was a strong showing from the Bloodletting album, in addition to the titular song: ‘Joey’, Concrete Blonde’s big hit, and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, the Marc Moreland song that Johnette virtually owns due to her stirring renditions over the years, and a strident ‘I Don’t Need A Hero’. Her wonderful solo album Scarred was represented by ‘Just Like Time’. The gig ended with an a cappella rendition of ‘Mercedes Benz’, completing an earlier impression of a Joplin-like presence.
Lord knows what I’ve missed. An hour was too short but deliciously long. She has two other gigs at the elegant, intimate Spiegeltent, an ideal venue for an acoustic performance from a genuine, and genuinely talented, performer.
Night 2 review
Night 3 review
Note: I’ve replaced an old PR shot of Johnette used in the original post with one taken on the third night after the audience was given permission to take photos for a period.