Toni Childs, Sunday November 23, 1996

The Regal Theatre, Subiaco

Have you ever felt that you have successfully progressed, set new standards, moved on … while everyone clings to your past glories? Such is the case with Toni Childs who, at the beginning of her latest Australian tour, is faced with having to let her latest material sit dormant while the wheels of industry cement her Best Of album at the top of the charts. This may be a nice little Xmas earner, but the strain and submission of having to resurrect old material for the sake of sales has never been more evident.

With a rather luke-warm reception to her introductory material, the contemporary Womb and Welcome To The World, there was little doubt that the FM radio singles needed to be dusted off in haste. Nonetheless, and to Childs’ credit, a thorough airing of her 1994 album The Woman’s Boat, with all of its worldview and ethereal harmony, was offered before the populist axe came down.

The introspective and subtle musicianship of much of The Woman’s Boat was delivered by her five piece band with brooding power, the use of sweeping keyboard sounds and samples adding great weight to Childs’ demanding lyricism. Her confronting vocals were as evident as ever, particularly in her latest material where her whisper is as violent as her tuneful yelp.

It was truly impressive to see Childs, at one stage, sit down with her front-of-house fans to share in the immediacy of their facial expressions. This simple and rare act for a performer did wonders in personalising her lyrical message for the remainder of the show. But even with the utter spite of I Just Want Affection and her strident stage strut during Lay Down Your Pain demanding an audience response, the response never quite reached its desired potential.

Having toured with The Woman’s Boat for two years, Childs certainly expected a better deal, her embarrassed laughter as she struggled to remember guitar lines and the lyrics to I’ve Got To Go Now was genuinely sad, the riotous audience response being somewhat at odds to the artist’s resignation to ‘playing hits’.

Don’t Walk Away, the morality tale of I’ve Got To Go Now and a Carribean take on Many Rivers To Cross all came across as stunted and forced under these circumstances, the band also needing a little more time to adapt to the conservative playlist motivated by the current success of the Best Of album.

With this being the first concert of the tour it will all improve with a little musical rehearsal, but when it comes to Toni Childs being willing to compromise her love for her rather non-commercial and largely unknown new material, well, that remains to be seen. I put the lacklustre, eye-rolling performance down to a first night realisation of her role in Australia and a public swallowing-of-one’s-pride.