Wendy Saddington steps onto the stage all guns ablaze, and rips into Randy Newman’s spinetingling ‘God’s Song’ with THAT VOICE, still the raw and powerful instrument she is renowned for.
It is Saddington’s first headline show in over 10 years (and that was the first for 10 years before that), and she would be forgiven by the sold out room if she were a little unsteady and anxious, but she is a supremely confident high priestess from the get-go, sporting a stunning silver afro, purple sequins and flowing robes, banging her little drum, a wild theatrical presence that summons up the spirit of Nina Simone, George Clinton and Sun Ra.
Between her repertoire of romantic standards and hardhitting social commentary songs she is loose, gregarious and surprisingly hilarious, especially given her formidable, intimidating reputation. She introduces ‘Stand By Me’ with the disclaimer “I hate this song but I’m basically a lazy person”, but when she opens her throat and sings the first line the room erupts with a kind of joy.
She invites notorious underground cabaret performers Boom Boom La Bern and the supposedly dead Aysha to join her onstage for a riotous, chaotic and impromptu journey through the past, including a fabulously rambling tale about discovering kajal, trying opium, sparrows on skewers and getting thrown in prison in India, while the ever cool, unphased Peter Head riffs and tinkles away without missing a beat. That they are a team is obvious, Head is the rock to Saddington’s volcano, and his strong and elegant playing throughout grounds the singer to the song. Because despite getting sidetracked by old friends and the rather corporately happy Krishna devotees she drags up to chant with her (resulting in a few walkouts and some muffled laughter), there is no doubt it is Saddington’s stage, and everyone is there to lose themselves in her incredible, rich, cracked, majestic screams, whoops, coos and hollers, whatever it is she is singing. And she has still got it. She was born with it.
How a girl from the outer suburbs of Melbourne emerged just before 1970 with this utterly unique gift of a heartstopping old soul singer’s voice and fully-formed, almost punk fuck-you, performance aesthetic only adds to her mysterious glamour and deserved legendary status. And most of those gathered together from all walks of life in Camelot on Sunday night knew how very lucky they were to witness it for themselves. One can only feel sorry for those few straighty-one-eighties that just didn’t get it. But fuck ‘em. She’s the real thing, as honest, brutal, haunting and pure a songstress as Australia has ever had the honour of laying claim to.
[Loene was the support at the above gig, and her father accompanied Wendy. Just letting y'all know in the interests of transparency - Ed]