I do love it when the Cabaret Festival does shows on the Festival Theatre stage. We enter the main theatre like a regular show but then we are lead up a staircase onto the main-stage where so many legends have performed over the years. We are ushered through a mini maze of red velvet curtains that loom above us (Twin Peaks style) and it’s a bit like peeking behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. There on the stage is a fully operating cabaret venue. Despite its cavernous size, it feels…secret, like an illicit speakeasy or a forbidden burlesque event during the war. Like the fun police could come smashing the doors in at any moment. Every table is packed and given that the main event this evening is the returning powerhouse of Adelaide’s own Carla Lippis, that is hardly a surprise.

Carla Lippis is a thoroughly remarkable performer. Sassy, captivating, dangerous and playful. And holy shit, that voice. She can growl like a rock’n’roll tiger and sing like an angel, albeit one with a cigarette in one hand and a bourbon in the other. She writes great songs and when she re-imagines songs by other artists she rebuilds them from the ground up making them her own.

Arriving in a figure hugging black stretch fabric dress and a blunt cut hair do, she opens with a powerful, stripped back take on Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, we are enslaved from the very first second.  The arrangement starts off sparse before building the psychedelics. She tells us about an Italian band she was working with rejecting her original songs and after hearing The Hard Way, it is clearly their loss. A commission to write a song about Johnny Rotten (also rejected) gives us the striking Rotten Heart. She transforms the L7 song Fast & Fighting into an altogether different beast while climbing on tables and being held up by punters. Roy Orbison’s In Dreams is astounding complete with impressive Theremin solo from piano player Victoria Falconer. New original songs like Red Thread and Double Lapel are impressive and a stripped to bare bones version of Lithium send the Nirvana song in a stark new direction. Sycamore Trees is a stunning set closer.

After thunderous applause the band returns for a intense version of The Rollins Band Liar. Flipping the context and singing those words of masculine manipulation of fragile female hearts is just a bit genius for me. They finish up with a incredible rendition of Cher’s Bang Bang from 1966, brought to us via the Nancy Sinatra version (also from 1966) that was used in Tarantino’s Kill Bill. The Sinatra version features a distinctive tremolo guitar played by producer Billy Strange. Tonight Carla’s husband Geoffrey Crowther, tremolos the heck out of the song. He guitar work all night has been sensational but hot damn the combination of the ghostly guitar and Carla’s torch song powerhouse voice and literally spine-tingling.

Lippis has been touring the world for the past few years (she now lives in the UK) and this is her second trip home this year, having left a trail of devastation with her Fringe Festival performances earlier this year. In these austere surroundings tonight, this remarkable performer and her exceptional band, more than rise to the heightened surroundings and tantalise, seduce and delight.

Magnificent.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review by Ian Bell