Brisbane Festival: California Crooners Club
First dates can be tough.
You’re not sure what you’re in for so you try to keep your expectations in check.
There’s a spark, that thrill of excitement followed by equal parts relief and genuine enjoyment.
Reservations are cast aside, you surrender to the experience – then that awkward moment when it all climaxes far too soon.
Such was California Crooners Club’s showstopping turn in the Spiegeltent at the 2016 Brisbane Festival.
Audience members kicked chairs aside to craft makeshift dance floors, the three members – Australian Hugh Sheridan, South African Emile Welman and US’s Gabe Roland – danced through the crowd, stripping off tuxedos and sneaking swigs of wine.
Only the second public outing for the then-trio of singers, the shows were high-octane, unscripted and infectiously fun but CCC churned through its setlist at dizzying speed as it fed off the frenetic energy, leaving audiences gasping for more.
Two years later, the show has returned to the Spiegeltent, the trio now a quartet: Roland is out and in his place are US compatriots Johnny Manuel and Maiya Sykes.
A fourth voice adds depth to the production – taking the sound from Rat Pack to Big Band – and Sykes’ powerhouse vocals shine, most notably during the Crooners’ cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect.
This is a more polished show than that seen two years ago.
The pace is more restrained, the performances less giddy and the performers seem more at ease and less desperately eager to please.
There’s no longer the debaucherous air that permeated their Brisbane Festival debut – for starters, the Spiegeltent chairs are now fixed to the floor – but the Crooners still delivers a rollicking, feel-good show.
Accompanied by a backing band, the foursome start with an effortlessly cool cover of Camila Cabello’s 2018 single Havana before tackling Lauv’s current hit, I Like Me Better.
The Spiegeltent is an intimate space but the performers spend as much time weaving through the audience as they do on the elevated stage.
The gents still strip down to their undershirts – Sykes executing her own wardrobe change offstage – and they still coax audience members into relinquishing their drinks; Sheridan joking any review of the show would be along the lines of: “Those bastards. They stole our drinks and they’re sweating everywhere.”
Gimmicks and banter aside, the Crooners can really sing and their unique arrangements and mash-ups elevate them beyond just another cover band.
A rap in the midst of Gladys Knight & The Pips Midnight Train to Georgia shouldn’t work but it absolutely does.
They ham up Frank Sinatra’s The Lady is a Tramp and slow down his Under My Skin; drop a Cardi B number then follow it up with Cole Porter.
Beyonce features, as does James Arthur and Adele, before leading a conga line through the crowd, picking up a dozen or more punters and inviting them onstage for an exuberant Bruno Mars finale.
California Crooners Club plays The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent in South Bank’s Cultural Forecourt until September 16. $60-$69, brisbanefestival.com.au