Lisa Simone had audiences under a spell on audiences on the closing night of Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Lisa Simone Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Dame Lisa Simone wowed Adelaide audiences singing her mother Nina Simone’s songs last night in Keeper of the Flame: A Daughter’s Tribute to Dr. Nina Simone Big Band Concert. A full Adelaide Festival Theatre were in awe at the beauty, power and versatility of her voice as she sang songs both familiar and less familiar from her mother’s catalogue.

Lisa Simone Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Image: Matlida Marseillaise

Lisa Simone is not a daughter riding on her mother’s accolades, she has won several awards, had starring roles on Broadway and multiple chart-topping albums. Her voice is incredible. Powerful, and soulful, it is truly a force of nature. The big band, comprised of 15, opened the show with an instrumental medley. Several of the musicians performed impressive solos, which the audience showed great appreciation for.


Wearing a golden brown jumpsuit and a blue patterned throw on top, Lisa Simone got straight into her first song of the evening, the ever-appropriate Keeper of the Flame. It also represents what Lisa sees as her duty to carry on her mother’s legacy. She then asks the audience if we’re ready for a party, to which she receives a resounding yes!

Lisa Simone Adelaide Cabaret Festival Photo: Claudio Raschella
Photo: Claudio Raschella

Fine and Mellow is the second song of the evening. As soon as I heard the words “my baby” I thought it was going to be My baby just cares for me but that will come later in the show. During The Gal from Joe’s, and other songs which feature large instrumental parts, Lisa steps to the side of the stage to allow the soloists to shine.


Lisa Simone tells the audience of how when she was little, she would always sing her Mum’s songs and that she would tell her I’m your back-up singer. Plus, she wasn’t allowed to say the word “Hell” as a child so she would sing Go to Hell instead. For that song she invites the audience to shout “Hell” at the appropriate place in the song, something they greatly enjoyed doing.


Next up was I Hold No Grudge for which Lisa gave an extraordinary long soaring finish. She then looks at the set list and proclaims “ooh I like this one!” before performing I’m gonna leave you, which is more upbeat in pace than the previous song. This change from slow to fast and back to slow again happens throughout the show and keeps the audience on their toes.


Before leading into the next song, Lisa says that it is very special for her and reminds her of when her parents still liked each other. That song is Don’t You Pay Them No Mind. Again, Lisa had the audience in awe when she effortlessly sustained the high notes.


Lisa Simone then asks the audience “Do you like the blues?” and says “I’ve warned my guitarist”. We’re intrigued to know why but soon discover that it’s because Lisa Simone will drape herself around him and dance toward him while he performs Do I move you from Nina Simone’s album Nina Simone Sings the Blues. At one point when the guitarist is standing, Lisa sits on his chair poking her head around his sides. It was hilarious to watch, and although we suspect the guitarist is well used to it now, it also showcases his focus and concentration as he doesn’t strum any wrong notes.


Then it’s interval. Most of the songs in the first half of last night’s show come from Nina Simone’s High Priestess of Soul album from 1967. The audience is buzzing and eagerly waiting for the second half.

Lisa Simone Adelaide Cabaret Festival Photo: Claudio Raschella
Photo: Claudio Raschella

Just as in the first half, the band start with an instrumental before Lisa Simone returns to the stage. During interval, she has had a costume change and returns to the stage with her hair up and wearing a red jumpsuit. She launches into Mood Indigo, which is even further back in Nina Simone’s catalogue from Little Girl Blue released in 1959.


The audience launches into rapturous applause as soon as they hear the first word “Black” of Black is the colour of my true love’s hair. But they quickly quieten and sit in stunned silence. We had already heard Lisa Simone’s vocal talents but the long notes and tone changes in this particular song showcases them even more.


Lisa Simone tells the audience that the next song “wasn’t exactly” her choice but that the promoter had told her it was very popular in Australia and that in her concerts in other Australian cities last year, it had been very well received. We are in shock to discover that the song is I put a spell on you and can’t fathom a Nina Simone tribute without it. The Adelaide audience’s roaring applause confirmed that Adelaide audiences were no different and Lisa, impressed, said “it pays to be open sometimes and to put your pride to the side”.


When Lisa moves into Love me or Leave me, a lady in the row behind me starts singing along, loudly. It soon becomes apparent which songs are the audience’s favourites. After the song, Lisa explains that she and the drummer have something funny with that song: in rehearsal the tempo is perfect but in performance it gets faster and faster so she has to sing faster and faster to keep up.


Then sitting next to her pianist, Lisa Simone sings the ever popular My Baby Just Cares for Me. This is in keeping with the other songs in this second part being largely from Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue album.


Lisa Simone obviously has great respect for her band. Whether it be allowing them to shine during their solos, or checking in to make sure she’s given them enough time to get the next song sheet music ready.


Throughout the show, Lisa would occasionally pause between songs to talk to the audience, provides little anecdotes about the songs she’s performing or preparing the show. The lighting was simple but very effective. The background screen and the spots changed colour at appropriate moments throughout the show.


She tells us that the smile we can see starts from her heart before launching into Work Song which Oscar Brown Junior wrote about the chain gangs. Lisa Simone then tells us the show is over but we know it isn’t. After all we haven’t heard Feeling Good, which is arguably Nina Simone’s most well-known and loved song. She returns for an encore and gets the audience to sing along to it. That isn’t the only encore song though. Lisa Simone surprises the audience by staying on for several more songs saying in disbelief that she “flew 24 hours to only play for 90 minutes!” Simone then treats us to some of her own songs including “Finally free” for which she steps off stage and into the audience walking around the Festival Theatre crowd as she sings.

Lisa SimonePhoto: Claudio Raschella
Photo: Claudio Raschella

Before her final song of the show, Lisa Simone tells us that she is finally free and that she wouldn’t be without her mother Nina Simone doing what she did, the decisions and sacrifices that she had made. The final song of the night she tells us is one that has never been performed with a big band for an audience before as she sings her own song Hold On.


Last night’s show was incredibly special and showed that Lisa Simone is absolutely the Keeper of her mother’s flame and extraordinarily talented in her own right. A very special show and one not to be missed if it comes to your city.


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Cabaret Festival


For other events with links to France and the Francophonie happening in Australia, check out our What’s on in June


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