Solomon Burke, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

Solomon Burke is the real thing - a survivor from the days when soul singers really sang from the soul, when their secular hymns to carnal love sounded as if church bells were still ringing in their ears. And the Barbican has a holy "chapel of rest" vibe, with sepulchral organ and buckets of red roses either side of a huge empty throne. The organist swirls into Amazing Grace and the hall goes dark: Burke has entered the building, but we must not see him until he is squeezed into his seat.

Encased in a silver three-piece suit, like Sidney Greenstreet doing a Bond cameo, he sings Like a Fire, the title track of his new album, backed by a well- drilled band. But he is more comfortable with his back catalogue, plus hits by soul singers he has known. He recites a litany of great artists: "Joe Tex, Don Covay, Arthur Conley, Percy Sledge, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Wilson Pickett, Ben E King, Otis Redding." Burke is the only man left standing. Except that he can't stand. He blasts out Dock of the Bay and Mustang Sally, and segues into Don't Give Up On Me. He recruits men from the audience to distribute roses to the ladies.

It really is that cheesy. Girls and women queue for a kiss; the stage fills with fans aged 15-75. Burke ends the evening with rock'n'roll (Proud Mary, Tutti-Frutti) and schmaltz (What a Wonderful World). At which point there is another blackout, and Burke is wheeled out under cover of darkness. There may be a thin line between love and hate, between sacred and profane, but there is a big gap between sincerity and cheesiness. Too much cheese spoils the flavour.


John L Walters

The GuardianTramp

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