QPAC Concert Hall
July 21st 2012
Reviewed by Michelle Bull
When I received the invitation to attend American singer/songwriter Toni Childs concert at QPAC Saturday evening I was more than a little excited. Her well known hits I’ve Got to Go Now and Many Rivers to Cross were part of my childhood soundtrack, and featured in many family car trips up the coast of NSW in which my brother and I would copy her distinctive singing style in backseat concerts that no doubt drove our parents batty. With six Top 40 hits and three platinum albums, this looked to be an opportunity to see a formidable artist in action. Unfortunately, Child’s performance on Saturday did not meet my high expectations.
The night began on a positive note with a warm up by the engaging country rock singer/songwriter Morgan Evans. Showcasing songs from his new release Live Each Day; this is an artist whose natural and relaxed performance style gives him the air of a seasoned performer and instantly makes his audience feel at ease. Having recently returned from a songwriting stint in Nashville, Tennessee with a pocketful of stories and songs to rival many of his contemporaries, his performance was the highlight of the night for me, and I’m sure he has gained many a new fan following his great set on Saturday night.
Sadly, I could not say the same for accomplished artist Toni Childs. Performing a mix of favorites like Stop Your Fussin’, Where’s the Ocean and Because You’re Beautiful, and new offerings from her upcoming and fan-funded album ‘A Citizen of the Planet’, due for release in early 2013, Childs apologetic and unprofessional performance simply did not measure up to her talent and skill for songwriting.
The audience was largely made up of die-hard fans, admittedly a forgiving crowd and one that will love her no matter what, but for those audience members wanting more, we were sadly disappointed. Childs battled through the performance in a way that had this audience member watching the clock and some around me walking out before the night had ended.
Despite hints of the gravelly raw belt Childs is known for, she was battling vocal fatigue (or illness?), to the point where her voice gave out completely, and despite my harsh critique I did feel sorry for her, but it make me question whether perhaps tonight’s performance should have been postponed instead of existing as a battle that rendered her incapable of delivering what I’m sure she intended.
Childs constant apologies for her lack of voice and admissions of doubt about whether she could manage the next song only served to create a sense of unease and distrust amongst the audience, and personally I was unable to fully engage with her as a performer as I was made so aware of her diminishing vocals and lack of confidence in her own delivery. This doubt continued as Childs gestured to the use of her teleprompter, admitting she was unable to remember all of the words to the new songs, leaving me wondering how she could find an artistic connection without feeling confident in their delivery?
Now I don’t expect live performances to be 100% perfect all the time, in fact much beauty can be found in moments of imperfection, but drawing our attention to the internal concerns and battles of these aspects of live performance takes away my trust and distracts from the messages and connection I am looking to make with the artist and their music on an emotional level. Ironically despite Childs vocal imperfections, some of the moments where her voice gave out as she belted out a top note seemed laden with raw emotion, but her constant apologies stole their beauty and our ability to connect with it.
A moment, which held a great deal of potential, but unfortunately I once again failed to connect with, was Childs incorporation of ‘new technology’. We watched, intrigued, as she was dressed in a kimono with an iPad attached to the ‘obi’ sash tied around her waist and a ‘Burton-esque’ animation played to a pre-recorded track. Due to her lack of voice, Childs suggested the track be played instead of her singing it, as we probably wouldn’t get what she was trying to do otherwise. Personally, as I watched her singing along with the recording off the mic, I wished this decision was not made, as a quiet, albeit suffering vocal would have created more of an intimate moment than the pre-recorded track was able to offer.
Despite the misgivings of this performance Childs is acutely aware of her audience and endeavors to empower and connect with them through moments of participation (Zimbabwe), and for this she is to be commended. The night concluded with an invitation to all the women to join her onstage so that she could share with them the closing song and while I wholeheartedly support her notions of self-empowerment, love and community, what began as a beautiful moment where the lines between artist and audience were blurred, quickly began to feel like a time-filler, and felt alienating for those in the audience unwilling or physically unable to join her onstage.
Childs is somewhat of an earth-mother figure and I’m sure an inspiration to many and that is a wonderful thing. Her songwriting is undoubtedly beautiful and empowering but unfortunately as a performer with years of experience I expected more. I understand that many great artists suffer from nervousness and onstage anxiety, but as an audience member, this is something I do not want to be privy to.
Now I’m sure many a die-hard fan may disagree with what I have said in this review and if that is the case I am glad that they were able to make a connection and get something from this performance. I am still adamant in my opinion of Toni Childs as a great songwriter and undoubtedly a great recording artist. As a live performer though I tend to think if she could embody some of the self-empowerment and confidence she endeavors to instill into others, we may have enjoyed a much more secure and rewarding performance.