Well, this is new. A rarity in my gig-going travels, tonight I actually enjoyed the (more or less) local support act far more than the international headliner. The onomatopoeic soul-funk/ doo-wop eruption that is Perth’s Boom! Bap! Pow! has all the aces in their hand: an exuberant, cavorting front-woman in Miss Novac Bull; a tight, dedicated band fit with screaming horns and big band drumming from Dave Salvaire; equal parts 1950s high school prom band (think Sha Na Na in Grease) and outlandish swing monster (like a slightly less gamboling Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes)

Tracks like No Pleasin’ (from their new EP of the same name) and the adorable Onesie are what is missing from the Australian musical landscape: strong female characters with voices rather than whispery sounds fashioned into milksop lyrics about hearts or bikes or biscuits, steadfast musos adequately bringing back the styles of old without the half-arsed embarrassing attempts you might see elsewhere and a “show” to put on rather than just a “gig”; not that there is anything inherently wrong with a “gig” but sometimes you (well, I do, anyway) crave the rollicking excitement and ‘performance’ aspect of a show like this. Dynamite!

Now, I am right behind any artist genuinely keen to bring back the soul and swing of old; my favourite artists of all time are, in order of preference, Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington, so I am, obviously, a fan of the old school and, especially, capable vocalists.

New England’s Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed has the suave, crisp voice of a Spinner and a backing band for which any soul fan can vouch, but there is something decidedly lackluster about his performance and persona. Reed’s blue-eyed soul yields a greater live experience than you might see any other night of the week and yet there is a sizeable chunk missing. I don’t know what it is, is the problem; something felt a bit off, a tad disingenuous.

Eli and his band (the True Loves) open with an odd but brilliant choice in a swing cover of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, leading into ‘Am I Wasting My Time?’; Reed is more Otis Redding than Sam Cooke (a sizeable dash of James Brown isn’t out of the question, either) in his recital of southern-fried soul.

A cover of the deeply country Merle Haggard’s ‘I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can’ follows and Reed shows off his twangy axe skills, though playing means he cannot caper about and work the crowd, which is a loss, especially as they are a quiet lot tonight and need all the prodding one can muster.

Someone yells “Hallelujah!” from the back and Reed and friends burst into the distinctly Motown ‘Help Me’ and ‘Just Like Me’. It is about here that I scan the room and take in the various punterage: a largely older, loveably daggy crowd, it is clear Reed lives in that sort of “Mum Appeal” niche that crooners like Michael Bublè occupy. Smooth and charming, Reed gives the East a wink and a smile and every woman swoons…the men swoon, too; but wouldn’t admit it.

After the rock and roll-y ‘Stake Your Claim’, Reed affirms the crowd’s lacklustre appreciation and says, kindly though: “I think it’s time we cut the bullshit and start dancing”, launching into swing-pop ‘Tell Me What I Wanna Hear’.

‘Young Girl’, the opener from new album Come and Get It, is a big swing-pop number with massive horns and admittedly cookie-cutter lyrics (“I’m gonna stop and give you all the love I’ve got, young girl”) but is reasonably pleasant. Reed busts out some surprising harmonica skills and the band kick into ‘Name Calling’, the funk beat of which meant that even I couldn’t help but bop a little and the lyrics, a little more clever (“You went from name calling to calling my name”).

The nostalgic prom number ‘Time Will Tell’ causes many a couple to cuddle up and attempt a slow dance in the crowded band room, bless ‘em. The romanticism doesn’t last long, as Reed and Co. bring out the title track from their new album and set ender Explosion in a blur of reedy (no pun intended, for once) bass and grandiose horn sounds.

The encore fake-out done (I am really beginning to loathe those), Reed returns with band and soul staple ‘So Glad You’re Mine’. He attempts to instigate crowd sing-alongs which go gangbusters for a few bars before the punters lose interest/ become shy/ realize they are from Melbourne.

Reed says goodbye with the massive revue number ‘Doin’ the Boom Boom’, complete with his typical James Brown-esque gruff shouts and Motown affirmations (“Heyyy!” “Yeah!” “Break it down!” etc.); walking home, I sang a Sam Cooke medley to myself (you don’t care, but: “Having A Party”, “Twistin’ the Night Away”, “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Good Times”) and wondered why I couldn’t connect to the Paperboy ethos like so many others. Is it his spoken appropriation of the African-American voice? Is it the oft-banal lyrics? Is it that, by the end of the set, you realize so many of the songs stick to the same nu-soul/swing revival guidelines that it all bleeds into one horned, jazzy haze?

Who knows?

–       Lisa Dib