Although an underused venue on the city’s gig circuit, the faded grandeur of the Arts Theatre lends itself well to artists of a more Bohemian hue – and as such, the legendary Melanie Safka looked immediately at home on its well-worn stage. Now in her early sixties, the former pin-up girl of the hippy movement wore her age lightly, wryly reminding us that “artists get better” long after they cease to be headline news. In appearance, manner and lifestyle, Melanie remains true to the idealism of the Woodstock generation – and with the festival’s fortieth anniversary approaching later this month, she reminisced fondly about its unique, magical, era-defining and life-changing qualities.
Melanie’s appearance at Woodstock effectively catapulted her to stardom, and a career which saw her sell more than 25 million records worldwide. Her biggest hit in the UK might have been the chirpily unrepresentative Brand New Key (“it doomed me to be cute for the rest of my life!”), but her 1970 album Candles in the Rain remains her most widely revered work, and selections from it (Ruby Tuesday, What Have They Done To My Song Ma, and the eternally daffy Alexander Beetle) dominated the latter part of her two-hour set.
The newer songs – of which there were many – are co-compositions between Melanie and her son Beau, whom she credits with helping to enable her “artistic re-emergence”. Following his well-received support set, Beau accompanied his mother on stage for the full two hours, augmenting the material with some deliciously fluid guitar runs.
The show ended with the cutting of a sizeable birthday cake in Woodstock’s honour – which Melanie would gladly have doled out to the entire audience, had there only been sufficient paper plates. An air of mellow jubilation prevailed, along with the sense that – in the words of her final song of the night – Melanie had indeed been “extraordinary, magnificent and rare”.