Rita Coolidge in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on May 11th 2016
Purgatory is an abstract concept, but if such a state of being could be said to exist, then the hours spent in The National Concert Hall tonight may be considered as close as a living soul can come to experiencing it. It’s not an unpleasant feeling. There are no souls in visible torment here. It’s simply a feeling of waiting for something to happen and not knowing if it ever will. That in itself, though, makes for a restless, distracting endurance test.
It’s a deceptively heartening sight; walking into the auditorium before the band takes the stage and seeing a bank of askew guitar necks waiting to be caressed. Three of them turn out to belong to Don Baker, who after a bit of masterful blues picking brings his current foil Clara Rose onstage where the two alternate between one another’s compositions. It’s standard fare for the most part, although Rose gets to show off her range – from throaty rasp to falsetto – on Love Sweet Love, and Baker takes a wildly impressive turn on harmonica later on, emulating a train speeding up and adding layered tones to the cacophony before slowing it back to a halt. It’s actually the most remarkable moment of the night.
Rita Coolidge has kept some impeccable musical company through her long career, and tonight’s set is peppered with tales and takes on the great and good – from Dylan to Delaney & Bonnie, through Allen Toussaint and Clapton, to Ry Cooder and Sinatra, Coolidge has either sung with or been heavily influenced by some of the major names in 20th century popular music. The name that crops up most frequently, though, is one who’s no stranger to the crowd in attendance, and the music of Kris Kristofferson (“my favourite ex-husband”) takes precedence.
It isn’t until a more soul-inflected latter section that the players seem to come alive, with the swagger of Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand The Rain getting bodies that bit more animated. The Way You Do The Things You Do rolls into How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You – a medley was inevitable in a gig where the first song has a bass solo – and a band intro segment comes with the requisite solo each…the last thing anyone needs at this point is another bass solo.
A staid (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher typifies the selection of covers. These songs are sanitised to within a inch of their lives – trudging along, never really igniting – and if Jackie Wilson can’t elevate the emotion then there’s no-one that can. Coolidge’s miscellany is wide-ranging, and her band as accomplished as it gets, but the whole thing is simply a benign plateau of ordinariness. This is as middle-of-the-road as it gets, smooth as silk and safe as houses – but at the end of the day, one person’s purgatory is another’s Adult Contemporary heaven.