More concert that cabaret, but an appealing performance
By Maxine Montegomery
“From Both Sides Now” – the Joni Mitchell song title in itself evokes thoughts of inner regret and struggles of the heart.
Grant Newsome’s debut show at The Butterfly Club takes its title from this very song, and sets up an expectation for the audience that they will be taken on an emotional journey with the performer.
Newsome has made a very bold choice in starting the show with Mitchell’s signature song. At the top of a show, we, the audience, know nothing about the person who stands before us – we have no background, no insight to the individual to be able to see the reality of the lyrics as reflected in their own experience. I felt that I was seeing the ‘public face’ of Newsome, rather than seeing the man himself. When he encored the number at the end of the night, he certainly gave the lyrics more candour. The hour-long show was closer in format to concert than solo cabaret, and I couldn’t help but wonder just how much more pathos the song may have carried had Newsome employed his own version of cabaret rhetoric to take the audience into his confidence and bring all the songs together as a whole.
Newsome presented a range of songs that trace the geography of his career, complemented by some of his personal favourites. The audience showed particular appreciation for “Sway”, and a very funky, swung rendition of Doris Day’s “Secret Love”. A fabulous performance of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was heightened by the tremendous work of Newsome’s backing duo – Rowland Braché on piano and Rob Nicholls on double bass. Nicholls’ percussive use of the body of the bass during the Queen number may have been quite simple in execution, but it was a delight to watch and hear. Newsome introduced me (and the rest of the crowd) to a gem of a song called “Nathalie” by Gilbert Bécaud. It was in his delivery of the song that he had me fully engaged, for his telling of the story of the piece was very affecting – as he got caught up in the tale, so did I. “Nathalie” was followed by a tri-language rendition of “What Now, My Love?”. At this point in the night, he seemed to relax somewhat and a little of the showman peeled away, letting us see more of Newsome’s true self.
I would like to see Newsome use his voice to the extent of his technical abilities – he clearly has the ability to produce sustained vocal line, and I wish we had heard more of that from him. I can understand the singer wanting to show off his full vocal range by adding an extended melismatic passage to the end of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, but to then break the title word of the song due to the length of the custom-written phrase was disappointing to hear.
A born showman, Newsome looked the part in his golden-hued suit, and his infectious smile certainly completed the picture. It is very easy to see just how at home he would have been on stage at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. I have no doubt that he has a whole range of experiences in his life which could be translated into a host of solo cabaret shows in the more intimate and personal sense of the genre suitable for a more intimate venue, and I look forward to seeing what he next creates.
From Both Side Now has its final showing at The Butterfly Club on Sunday May 6th at 6pm. For tickets, visit www.thebutterflyclub.com.