Despite the overcast skies and balmy weather, Friday 19 February 2021 made a mark in history not only on Karuna land but all across Australia and the world. After a tumultuous year, the 2021 Adelaide Fringe kicked off amid a worldwide pandemic. With QR codes as far as the eye could see, a greater expanse of space to mingle in, fewer venues than in previous years and a myriad of shimmering lights, Kadlitpina again played host to the famous Garden of Unearthly Delights.
With a great appreciation and understanding of our privilege, a couple hundred people entered the Speilgeltent to share a moment with the first artist to grace its presence: the transcendent, Katie Noonan.
While in other years the Fringe focussed on churning as many artists through one venue in a night ensuring allotted timeframes were strictly adhered to, this year that wasn’t the case. Time was not the artist’s enemy, at least not for Noonan. She sauntered her way through a twelve-song setlist spanning an amazing twenty-year career partially created by herself, partially from the audience, and she did so at her own pace. What should have been a quickfire hour turned into a relaxed ninety-minute intimate concert experience. It was truly wonderful.
Noonan set the scene from the moment she stepped on the stage. Given the carefree atmosphere, she casually bantered with the crowd before opening with Quiet Day. This pattern followed with personal details regarding each song sung shared. We learnt Emperor’s Box was written for her Dad who suffered a stroke decades ago, and we felt the sadness and hope as she sang it. We learnt that Never Know Your Luck was dedicated to her ride or die who broke up with her in 2020, and we shared her grief as she sang it. We were told I Found You was written about her husband, and we saw the pure joy and love emanating from her as she sang it for us. We learnt Noonan’s project The Songs of Don (Walker) would be performed at the 2021 Adelaide Cabaret Festival despite it not yet being officially announced before being treated to a hauntingly beautiful version of Cold Chisel’s Choir Girl.
Noonan’s ability to connect with the audience via her storytelling was enhanced by her ethereal vocals and sheer musical talent. Songs including Bluebird, Time to Begin, Broken, Golden and Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) were goose bump-inducing. They generated moments of enthralled silence from the audience who simply allowed the emotion of each to embrace them.
In contrast, the crowd requested, Tip of Memory, was both a chaotic mess and a show highlight. Noonan freely admitted she wasn’t sure if she could remember the song, but that she would try. Try she did with some humorous misses. However, the absolute splendour of the song, Noonan’s sublime vocals and her exceptional musicality shone through for an unforgettable moment.
Classic George songs, Special Ones and Breathe In Now, concluded the show. Age certainly has not weathered them, in fact, their message still rings true and they still deliver a heart punch so hard it hurts. The number of people wiping away tears at the show’s conclusion was evidence of that.
Katie Noonan’s genuineness, her unabashed honesty and candour combined with her supreme talent is what makes her one of the most exciting artists to watch live. You never know what you are going to get with Noonan, but you do know whatever it is it will be breath taking. This performance was a testament to that.
Fringe Review By Anita Kertes