AT LAST: ELENOA ROKOBARO LIVE IN CONCERT
AT LAST: ELENOA ROKOBARO LIVE IN CONCERT, streaming live from the Old Fitz Theatre, Sydney at 11.30am AEST. Also 7.30pm, Wednesday 24 June 2020. Photography taken as live screenshots
Opening her set with the Etta James classic At Last, simply accompanied by Andrew Worboys on Kawai keyboards, Elenoa Rokobaro reveals a glorious voice. She has depth, power, and richly-coloured tone, and at 30 (she tells us at one point) she is in full command of her exceptional instrument.
It’s an interesting and unusual experience as a number of cameras, set around the Old Fitz auditorium capture the singer, Worboys and guitarist Glenn Moorhouse in a soft blue-black haze pierced by carefully placed bright white spotlights (design Trent Suidgeest). The novelty of the Old Fitz transformed into virtual nitery is quickly replaced by relaxed comfort – Rokobaro’s ease in her peculiar surroundings and with herself is palpable.
Within minutes – as she powers through Jill Scott’s Golden and India Arie’s Video – the audience numbers (in the corner of my laptop screen) have flipped up into the 60s. And that would be a full house in the fabled home of Ped Line Productions! I forget to check the numbers again, but it’s amazing to think of people watching with me, all over the country and beyond; not least because it’s a chilly morning and I’m wearing my cosy NZ bed socks and trackies…
Rokobaro, on the other hand, is svelte in a fitted white jacket, skinny jeans and a string-strapped black tank. She is similarly laidback in her performing style. It’s an interesting contrast to the hotly-sexualised style of her teenage inspiration, Beyonce. Rokobaro gives over the central section of the show to the superstar’s work: Wishing on a Star, Me Myself And I, Beautiful Ones, and Sex On Fire.
A change of pace and genre comes with R&B star Jazmine Sullivan’s Masterpiece. The gentle guitar-led ballad highlights Rokobaro’s ability to be subtle and silken at the same time. Delicious. Continuing with Oleta Adams’ Just Had To Hear Your Voice, She then slips in another timeless Etta James number with I’d Rather Go Blind. More delight.
An unexpected segue – in a contemporary rock-funk-R&B gig that is – comes with Rokobaro’s almost casual yet sincere acknowledgment of her Christian faith. She brings backing vocalist Nana Matapule to the fore with Paulini Curuenavuli to accompany her on For Your Glory by American gospel singer and songwriter Tasha Cobbs. Rokobaro is not afraid to be personal and also dedicates a song to her late sister.
Changes of mood are beautifully handled: Brandy's 1998 ballad Have You Ever drops in a tender few minutes, as does I’m Here - from the stage musical The Color Purple.
And if anyone needs a reminder of Michael Jackson’s undeniable genius: the musicians do their very best on Rock With You. However, it’s the funkier songs in particular that make one wish the ensemble included a bass player… Crazy from the Gnarls Barkley duo, for instance, really needs the deep down rhythm foundation.
It might be different in the physical auditorium – or through a better sound system than either a laptop or headphones – but the sound mix suffers from my less than perfect reproduction: highlighting the top range of the keyboards and muffling Woodhouse’s normally fabulous guitars. And a bass player to take up where Motown giant James Jamerson left off is sorely missed on the final and otherwise fabulous version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. (“Fifty years old,” Rokobaro marvels!)
Catch tonight’s performance if you can. Otherwise: keep your eyes and ears open for upcoming events at the Old Fitz. And for Elenoa Rokobaro in person. She is wonderful.