Anyone who has listened to Laurie Levine’s, Six Winters or Josie Field’s 1984 knows that they are two of the most thrilling artists in South Africa today. This inimitable show, part of their Side by Side Summer Tour, took place at Bill Knight’s iridescent Cottage Club in Kommetjie and my only criticism is that it came to an end all too soon.
It’s a given that these world-class professionals sing beautifully live but this performance was distinctive because of the unpredictable and fascinating ways in which they fused their material and also due to their willingness to improvise, let loose and engage with the audience.
Levine and Field complement each other inasmuch as both have palpable roots in folk music and prioritise authentic song-writing over commercial norms. Whilst Levine’s material tends to pivot upon thought-provoking narratives, Field’s exceptional strength lies in her meditative lyrics and gutsy, non-conformist attitude. Indeed, even though Field has found her way into the mainstream of South African music, with massive radio play and SAMA nomination, her off-beat flamboyance, proclivity for the ukulele and profoundly passionate vocals indicate that she exists for the music and not to please anyone else.
Classic songs such as Levine’s ‘Oh Brother’ and Field’s ‘10 years’ were suffused with new vitality in an intimate acoustic environment, as the two singers performed duets and wove compelling harmonies from Field’s deeply resonant tones and Levine’s higher but equally intense notes. Levine’s free-spirited flair for country music met with Field’s individualistic take on the blues in order to produce brave and exhilarating covers of artists as diverse as Johnny Cash and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. In this regard, I particularly enjoyed the rendition of the latter’s ‘Home’ which involved Field impulsively whistling into the microphone and Levine belting out the famous song with innovative intonation, poise and emphasis.
Some solo artists are feeble and stupefied without their back-up bands but Levine and Field are prodigiously gifted musicians and this chance to tour without their usual paraphernalia, crews and plug-points has the upshot of accentuating the solidity of their songs and power of their vocals. The ingenuity of the show was reflected in a rapt audience and by the fact that the two singers were welcomed back for a riotous encore.
In a music-industry dominated by vapid celebrity hype and cheap sensationalist tactics, this tour is brilliant in its ability to showcase two consummate artists, who though at the top of their game, lack pretension or ego. New albums from both Field and Levine cannot come fast enough and I really loved Levine’s experimental presentation of one of her forthcoming tracks. Anticipation aside, the night at the Cottage Club is testament to Bill Knight’s winning ability to attract the finest in South African music. The creative integrity of all involved shone through and proved that the local music scene has performers who are eager to take captivating risks and play at the parameters of their own material in plucky and spirited ways.
Laurie Levine and Josie Field performed at The Cottage Club on 9 March 2013.