Review: Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas
(Barbican Centre, July 24th 2011, review by Kai Hoffman)

New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas performed at the Barbican this week – her first London appearance in twenty years. With the support of her top-calibre band – who played the entire evening from memory, including most requests from Irma’s 51-year back-catalogue – Irma’s clear, powerful voice still has the same wonderful quality from recordings she made back when she first reached commercial success in the 1960s.

Walking out onto the Barbican stage to a standing ovation, Irma’s strong gospel sound was showcased on signature tunes like ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘In Between Tears’ – and it was easy to understand why the Rolling Stones loved her version of ‘Time Is On My Side’ so much, that they decided to record it themselves.

With the announcement that she never mixes her gospel songs with her rhythm and blues, Irma quickly began to ask the audience for requests – and built the entire set on tunes from fans. With the effortless, relaxed energy of a lifetime of performance, the requests included ‘Take a Look at This Heart’, ‘Breakaway’, ‘Ruler of My Heart’ and ‘You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don’t Mess With My Man.’ Her stunning delivery on ‘This Bitter Earth’ and other ballads demonstrated that masterful ability to draw the audience right into the song – and echoed with the experience of surviving Hurricane Katrina.

With the slick polish and showmanship that only comes with experience, Irma’s band kept solos brief but made a stylish, tasteful statement fitting to each tune – the guitarist, hammond and saxophone particularly stood out.

In an age where auto-tuning and airbrushing have become practically second-nature for many, it was incredibly refreshing to hear such a huge, raw, healthy voice. At the age of seventy, and with numerous awards to her name, Irma Thomas is still in fantastic form, with a powerhouse belt and a completely natural sound.

Part of the Barbican Centre’s Blaze Soul Series

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