Vika Bull, often billed alongside her sister Linda or as part of the Black Sorrows, brought life to James’ songs in a remarkable fashion. Bull’s versions of hits such as I Just Want To Make Love To You and All I Could Do Was Cry blew the audience out of the Athenaeum, the sheer power of her voice echoing that of James’ distinctive vocals.
While Bull was excellent, the band was tight and the arrangements provided by musical director John McAll were spot on, the narrative aspect of the show got off to a slow start, hampered by some sound problems. This seemed to throw Bull, who one got the impression was not that comfortable with this side of her performance to begin with. She managed this aspect of the show through narrative support from trumpet player Tibor Gyapjas, although his shtick quickly became an unfortunate necessity.
Gyapjas is certainly an excellent trumpet player however, as his opening to the classic At Last attested. Roll With Me Henry, James’ first professional recording, featured trombonist Ben Gillespie joining Bull for a duet, an event I was hoping would be repeated throughout the night as his performance was solid, entertaining and without affectation. These songs were merely two simple and beautiful standouts among a string of terrific songs, including the raise the roof vibe of Something’s Got A Hold On Me which electrified the theatre.
Despite the minor technical problems, Bull and her band retired to an encore and a standing ovation. If you appreciate the music of Etta James then this is a show now to be missed, and if you’ve never heard her music you should head to Spotify before this show leaves town.
BY JOSH FERGEUS