Sunday, 8 June 2008

Eric Bibb -- Birmingham Town Hall, 31/5/08

By M.D. Spenser

There is something about Eric Bibb that cannot be captured on record, as he proved again with this extraordinary concert at Birmingham Town Hall.

Yes, his albums are good. But he’s one of the greatest live musicians in any genre.

And as for genres, Bibb is a master of many.

He began with a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, the old Blues about a man anticipating death. Standing alone, the band not yet on stage, Bibb exhibited his extraordinary skills as a guitarist and singer.

From there, he moved to a cover of ‘The Cape’, by the great folk writer, Guy Clark.

Then he toured his own stellar catalogue, which is replete with Blues – he’s a Bluesman at heart – folk, and house-rockin’ gospel.

“Let’s raise the roof,” he exhorted as he sang the spiritual ‘Needed Time’. And the audience eagerly complied.

His show is perfectly paced, with just the right ebb and flow, a kaleidoscope of tone and texture.

He whoops and hollers, and through his special kinship with listeners inspires them to do the same, particularly on the gospel numbers. Then he drops down to beautiful, shimmering folk.

His singing is so wonderful, his songwriting so accomplished, that his guitar gets short shrift. But he’s a masterful acoustic player, making the difficult seem easy and graceful.

He sang a few duets with his daughter, Yana Bibb, a fine singer as well. There wasn’t a duff number in the set.

At one point, Bibb sang the spiritual he called ‘Hold On’, which is known by most people as ‘Eyes On The Prize’. He heard it done by The Weavers long ago. When a Blues musician does a jazzy take on a spiritual he learned from a folk group – well, you start to understand Bibb’s genius in melding many styles into one.

At the end of the show, he left ’em yelling for more. He’s a former busker who built his career one listener at a time. Go to one of his shows – don’t miss it, whatever you do – and give him a chance to work his magic on you.

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