At Last: The Etta James StoryLeft – Vika Bull. Photo – Chrissie Francis

It seems I have spent a lifetime in and around Etta James ‘long and tumultuous’ career and yet it took Vika Bull and The Essential R&B Band to bring it on home to me.

From the go-get, Vika Bull and the musical magicians that form The Essential R&B Band presented Etta James and her story with a flawless, live carnival of sound that took us to the place where Etta first began, spanning, throughout the show, the many musical genres that Etta’s music encompassed. 

So many songs we all know and love: music that inspired and influenced generations of musicians from Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Diana Ross to name the obvious. On into the current generation of musical performers you can add Joss Stone, Adele, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse, who, unfortunately, couldn’t last the distance like Etta. The list will go on ad infinitum as this is what legends of music do: they create, initiate, pulsate, associate, emanate and satiate!

Satiate indeed when you witness such a performance as was presented to the hungry audience on Valentine’s Day at the QPAC Concert Hall.  Vika Bull captivates and gives us her all, her all being obviously limitless. What a performer! With The Essential R&B Band doing what they do best, the crowd screamed out for more and there was plenty more where that came from. 

Two Acts full of memories, sampling some of the best music that has ever been produced (at least in my lifetime) including, but not limited to ‘Tell Mama’, ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’, ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me’, ‘Roll with me Henry’, ‘Spoonful’, ‘Fool That I Am’, ‘Sugar on the Floor’, ‘Come to Mama’, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, ‘Good Rock’n Daddy’, ‘At Last’, and ‘Take it to the Limit’.

WOW, I was wonderfully exhausted after two hours of full-on narrative, soul-searching songs sung with heartfelt gusto and harmonies to cry for! I cannot fathom how Vika can sing with such depth, range and energy, and still be able to walk off the stage. Vika gives it her all and with the band that is THIS band, not to buy the CD in the foyer, to take home and play over and over and over and over again would be a musical crime.

Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins, to a fourteen-year old girl in 1938, didn’t have much of a childhood and just imagining what she would have gone through in those times just to stay alive does not bear thinking about. As Vika recounts, “Etta not only sang the blues, she lived the blues...” 

Even with her ever-growing addiction to drugs and alcohol, stints in and out of jail, many lovers and a few babies of her own (who wouldn’t have fared much better than her own early childhood) she managed to record thirty studio albums; six live albums and toured and travelled with some of her legendary contemporaries. Her career lasted many generations and experienced many musical genres, with her final album ‘The Dreamer’ released in 2011. She died five days short of her 74th birthday in 2012. 

Etta said, “You can’t fake this music. You might be a great singer or a great musician but, in the end, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them...”

Bearing this in mind, who else could do justice to the life and music of Etta James? Who could sing with such passion and musical range and be as convincing as Etta herself? 

Vika Bull has become part of the Australian musical landscape with over 25 years of her own musical glory. Vika nails it! To the floor... to the ceiling... through the crowd... into the heart and soul of the entire audience.

Musical Director, John McAll (piano and keyboards, too) with John Watson (drummer extraordinaire: my own partner, also a drummer, could not take his eyes of masterful John and would have taken notes if I didn’t have the pen and paper clenched tight in my fist) with Tibor Gyapjas (narrator and trumpet), Ben Gillespie (trombone and vocals), Chris Bekker (bass), Dion Hirini (guitar) and Anton Delecca (saxophone) all spinning their individual musical magic.  

After ‘At Last’ and the umpteenth standing ovation, Vika and The Essential R&B Band finish off with a song that Etta said, “Summed up her life.”

‘Take it to the Limit’ was performed with such passion, precision and musical prowess, there was not a person in the crowd who didn’t either gasp, cry, clutch their chest (or sing along) and as we left the Concert Hall, this was the song ringing in our ears, with the conversation flowing out and about the dissipating crowd..... praise be I bought the CD!

Room 8 and Duet present
At Last: The Etta James Story

Venue: Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Date: Friday 14 February 2014, 8pm
Tickets: From $69.95
Bookings: QPAC Box Office 136 246 |

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