Bobby Womack brings a bit of Harlem to Dublin
Rumours of the singer’s demise have been greatly exaggerated
Bobby Womack performing at the Olympia in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson
Olympia Theatre, Dublin
Never has Dublin felt so close to the sweltering city streets of Harlem. Had we a fire hydrant, we would crack it. Had we a stoop, we would sit on it. Instead, we have to make do with 110th Street booming out of the stage, and Bobby Womack bringing his funk-soaked soul to bear. Plenty close enough, then.
Rumours of Womack’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and here one thing is certain – he may have lived his life to the full, but his voice has come through intact. Opening a set with 110th Street is a statement of intent, and in a set that tips the one hour 45-minute mark, Womack shows no signs of holding back.
On the evidence here, though, you can’t quite say the same for his band. They roll through the hits with confidence if occasional nonchalance, from Harry Hippie to I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much. But it’s not until Womack shifts a gear into the title track from last year’s The Bravest Man in the Universe that things really click into place. Released, just a little, from the spare approach of Damon Albarn’s sharp production, and with their edges slightly softened by Womack’s rich approach, these tracks simply soar. Please Forgive My Heart is as heartbreaking live as on record, and Womack seals the spine-tingling deal with Deep River. “I’m going to sing some gospel,” he says, “because that’s where I come from, because I’m a soul singer.” And he gets his amens from the aisles.
It’s not long before we’re back on more familiar Womack territory, and in the company of the great contemporaries he’s managed to outlive. With a certain sweet sadness, he diverts You’re Welcome, Stop on By into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come gets a respectful airing.
Womack is a survivor and a living, thriving link to another era. His last album was a masterpiece in reinvention, and it might be too much to expect a seamless join between those tracks and the funk-soul classics that made his name in just one set. Live, though, it’s deeply impressive to see a man of 69 resting on no laurels.