The last time I saw Imelda May play live was at the height of her ‘Rockabilly Queen’ years at this very venue, York‘s Barbican back in November 2011. She was a powerful presence and explosive performer back then and frankly she still is, only now she has extra added diva power and so much soul. Her new album ‘Life Love Flesh Blood’ showcases just how great a vocalist she truly is. The fifties style dresses and skirts of Imelda’s past are replaced by a more sophisticated black number and that trademark pulled back, white streaked hair is now a gorgeous black straight style with bangs.
She recently reached a significant age that I passed many, many years ago and on top of that she is coming out of the break up of an eighteen year relationship. Has this played a part in how she pours her heart and soul into her new songs? Very likely I think. She opens the set with a delicate and sparsely backed “Call Me”. That and every track from her new album got an airing tonight which proves that she is not one to rest on her laurels. She obviously didn’t disappoint the longer term fans and delved into her back catalogue for rousing versions of “Mayhem” and “Johnny Got A Boom Boom” towards the end of the show.
As for the new songs it would be really difficult to find a dud, so I won’t even try. “Levitate” was stunning in this live environment and “Black Tears” I am sure brought tears to many an eye in the Barbican. Other highlights from the new record were, for me “Love And Fear”, “The Longing”, “Should’ve Been Me” and “How Bad Can A Good Girl Be”. I love “Human” and it is one of my favourite tracks from the album, but live it transcends its recorded version by a mile, a stupendous song.
The encore featured a fragile and beautiful acoustic version of “Girl I Used To Be” followed by a magnificent cover of the Shangri-Las “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”. Just when we thought the night had ended on a high the band powered into another new song, “Game Changer” and pretty much everyone was up and bopping to that. I hope that I don’t have to wait more than five years for my next Imelda May gig, because this lady gets better and better.
Just a brief word about the talented support act Irish singer songwriter Jack Lukeman. It didn’t take him long to have pretty much the whole audience participating in some great singalongs, a very brave move for a support act, but one that paid off incredibly well. His cover of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” is one of the best that I have ever heard of that classic song. And finally a brief shout out to the sound in the Barbican, sometimes I have felt let down by the sound quality at this venue, but tonight I would give it an eleven out of ten.