The wings we have... Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely
Waiting in the snaking queue outside NGV-International, I hooked up with a trio of punters on the theatrical equivalent of a blind date. They wanted a night out at the Spiegeltent and put a pin in the festival program. "Something different" was the wish. Man, how lucky you can get!
We got Toshi Reagon and her terrific backing band, BIGLovely. Barring early-onset dementia, no-one present will forget the performance. This was capital-P privilege material. A stadium-stardom act in the most intimate of venues...
Music, for me, is all about signal-to-noise. I'm not (just) talking sound quality here. Music is a carrier wave between souls. And Toshi Reagon (daughter of Sweet Honey In The Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon) opened a channel -- locked and loaded -- as soon as she sang her first bluesy, folksy note. Ever had someone give your shoulders a rub and, instantly, you can focus your eyes? That's what this voice does.
But how to describe it? 'True' seems so inadequate, but it will have to do. True to the note, true to the thought and emotion, true to the self.
Bright as the sun, but so so controlled. Agile and clean. Capable of anything -- apparently -- except strain.
Think: the passion of Janis mixed with the purity of Joni.
Purity's not quite the right word. Above all, Toshi Reagon's is the voice of experience. Love and loss... the awful daring of a moment's surrender. Hell, this self-proclaimed lesbian sang a love song she penned that very day for a bloke named AJ! (She also sang 'Heartbreak Hotel' and let fly with the opening acoustic guitar riff from Led Zeppelin's 'Over the Hills and Far Away'... nothing if not eclectic!)
Think Mia Dyson, but with less smoke and grind. Think Bill Withers and Martha Wainwright rolled into one... but even fuller of voice. Think of the best of soul and R&B and indy rock.
Now, count the days 'til she returns and, in the meantime, pray that her recordings (on Righteous Babe, colour me surprised!) are a patch on the live shows.
Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely at the Famous Spiegeltent on Saturday October 13, 2007. Part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.