Live Review: Rhiannon Giddens, Monica Weightman

24 March 2016 | 6:48 pm | Maxine Gatt

"A testament to her encyclopedic and virtuosic knowledge of traditional folk music."

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Dressed like a folk-rock Patti Smith, Murri woman Monica Weightman kicks off the evening with a Welcome To Country and dedicates her entire set to First Nations elders past and present.

Early in the set she politely asks the lighting guy to turn up the house lights, the mark of an artist who sees music as a shared exercise with no barrier between performer and audience. Her husky, campfire voice and fine acoustic guitar playing deliver a warm 50-minute set to an attentive and steadily building crowd. Highlight of the set is a lively rendition of her original song Livin It Up, which was recorded by the late Paul Hester of Crowded House fame. A staunch, healing and positive set from Weightman, whose pride in her culture and musical history is refreshing and powerful.

The near-capacity crowd stands as Rhiannon Giddens walks on stage in a blue dress, brown Akubra hat (which she tells us is newly purchased) and bare feet. Opening her set on banjo with Spanish Mary, a song she composed to some old Bob Dylan lyrics, her rich vocals and five-piece band are all class. At the end of her first song, one punter yells out, "Welcome to Melbourne!" and Giddens basks in her adoring crowd. From here, her cover versions of Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and Odetta material are carried with skill and radiance. Giddens' huge talent is clear as she picks up her violin and bursts into a fiddle jig with her band. The electric guitar, drums, bass fiddle, violin, banjo and acoustic guitar move effortlessly between country, gospel, blues and celtic, and it's clear that we are in the hands of folk aficionados of the highest order.

Between songs, Giddens sips tea and quips, "I'm a little jealous of Canada right now, they elected a human," and the crowd applauds loudly. After acknowledging that the USA was built on slavery and oppression, she sings an entire song in Gaelic language, a testament to her encyclopedic and virtuosic knowledge of traditional folk music.

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Her version of Blu Cantrell's Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!) on violin elevates the energy in the room as the tempo builds to a climax. The crowd demands and then sings along to encore song Up Above My Head. The crowd laps it up when she announces a new album coming this year and promises a return to Australia. If you have tickets to Bluesfest, do not miss this stunning performer and her band. A joy to watch and listen to, Giddens is a star.