Explaining that he released this covers album “for love” early on in the set, Race performs with conviction alone onstage with his guitar and something to stomp on.
How very civilised a matinee session feels. The extraordinarily prolific Hugo Race has yet another album out, No But It's True, for which we are thankful because we get to soak up his live prowess once more. Explaining that he released this covers album “for love” early on in the set, Race performs with conviction alone onstage with his guitar and something to stomp on. Having immersed ourselves in one of Race's Pure Pop sets earlier this year, the originality and sensitivity with which he approached covers was evident, particularly during his rendition of Cry Me A River (which appears on the album). When Race performs this song today, we once again blink back tears. Race succeeds in drawing your focus in and every single word is meaningful, with some phrases emphasised to give those heartstrings an extra tug (eg the “You drove me, nearly drove me, out of my head/ While you never shed a tear” passage in Cry Me A River).
It's fitting that Race's label is called Rough Velvet, since that's exactly what his voice sounds like these days. Few could nail a Leonard Cohen cover such as A Thousand Kisses Deep like Race, whose voice has deepened over the decades. Race swears in song with such elegance and transports us back to a time when dapper onstage attire was not negotiable.
Never Say Never creeps up on us and when the chorus hits (“I might like you better if we slept together”) there's a collective smile and nod of appreciation. Introducing Wait And See by Lee Hazlewood, Race shares his memories of listening to the song on an old cassette that had oxidised and therefore sped up and slowed down at will, just as he liked it. We all laugh when Race admits that if someone approached him years ago and told him he'd be singing Bruce Springsteen on High Street, Northcote, he wouldn't have believed them and then adds, “but maybe that's the beauty of it”. I'm On Fire follows and The Boss would definitely approve. Various members of the first band to be signed to Rough Velvet, Leek & The War Wick Tragedy, step up on the stage from the audience to back Race toward set's end. They don't need to be summoned, but clearly hang on Race's every word and it's touching to see the admiration in the eyes of these young musicians. Clarifying the extra “ever” in Never Ever Gonna Give You Up, and hence differentiating it from the '80s hit by Rick Astley during his introduction, Race is accompanied by additional keys and drums for the song made famous by Barry White. As every lyric is lovingly articulated, the song's romantic message is celebrated. Luke Humphries (AKA Leek) gets up for No Regrets in his “dark, dark shades” and looks stoked to be sharing a stage with Race behind that cheeky façade.
There are not many voices out there on this planet that need no accompaniment; Race possesses one of them. The mad dash to the merch table immediately following this show speaks volumes. Here's hoping Race settles in rainy Melbourne and gigs more regularly now that he's luv-d up.
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