Hawaii's Blue Note: A new addition to the Waikiki night scene

The Blue Note Club is a new addition to Waikiki's night scene.
The Blue Note Club is a new addition to Waikiki's night scene.
Waikiki, Hawaii.

Waikiki, Hawaii.

It's a muggy Honolulu evening and I have a table at the Blue Note Hawaii, one of the newest additions to Waikiki's night scene.

At any of the other Blue Note clubs – which stretch from Beijing to the Big Apple – I'd probably wear a lounge suit or a jacket.

But with the mercury pushing above 25 degrees and humidity at an uncomfortable 60 per cent, I opt for jeans and a white shirt – a choice I almost immediately regret as I reach Blue Note's doors at the Outrigger on Waikiki Beach, where jazz fans are milling.

To my horror, I realise shorts, polo shirts and even thongs are perfectly acceptable, and far more practical.

I look at the others with envy, as beads of sweat form on the back my neck.

Thank god it's cooler inside, I think, as my eyes adjust to the dim light.

Blue neon lines the walls of the intimate club, carving out the shapes of tables, booths and the bar.

My host tells me the microphones at Blue Note clubs have been graced by the tones of BB King, Charlie Watts,  Maxi Priest, and David Crosby and the Wailers.

Tonight, we're to be entertained by US singer Joan Osborne, whose 1995 song One of Us reached mass saturation levels after it was released.

But first we must order some grub. My partner opts for the grilled salmon with tofu and local greens, which looks good on the plate and gets a thumbs up from her.

With my stomach growling, I order a thick beef burger with Swiss cheese and homemade sausage gravy on a sweet Hawaiian bun.

I feel a bit out of place ordering a kitschy Mai Tai in a jazz club but hey, I'm on holiday.

Stomachs full, we sit back to enjoy the show.

With its chorus of "What if God was one of us?", Osborne's hit tune was a smash in the Bible belts, but 20 years on, the crooner is definitely not singing Christian rock tonight.

"I wanna take you hiiiigher," she thunders to the twang of an electric guitar as she opens the show with an Ike and Tina Turner classic.

The powerful voice makes for a rousing and unexpected opening, a far cry from the cutesy, angelic Osborne I remember from 1995.

Backing her is one-man-band Keith Cotton, whose piano, keyboard, guitar and vocal skills are superb.

"Are there any Deadheads in the crowd?" Osborne asks.

No, it's not a reference to the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can, but to California rockers The Grateful Dead, whom Osborne toured with way back when.

She tells the crowd she learned all their songs by heart, before launching into an acoustic version of Morning Dew.

The three Deadheads in the audience – one more than a little tipsy – give a standing ovation.

Then she hits us with another surprise – an original new song called Freedom that she wrote for the Chicago soul singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples.

Busting out the thunderous notes from deep within her belly, Osborne soon gets the entire crowd up and clapping in time with the soul number.

"I'm talking bout Freeeedom," she roars, throwing her head back.

"Can't you imagine Mavis singing that?" she asks amid loud applause.

Then Cotton's guitar chords tug Osborne's slackening warble into a new number:

"Early one mornin' the sun was shinin', I was layin' in bed,

"Wondrin' if she'd changed at all, if her hair was still red".

It's Bob Dylan's lyrical folk classic Tangled up in Blue, and the fourth genre she's tackled tonight.

I now realise my perception of Osborne as a Christian rocker is way off.

She's a shape-shifter, constantly transforming from passionate, to sultry, then soulful in praise of the greats.

And her transitions are seamless, hinging off her stories of being on the road with the musical greats of the past and all she learned.

As quickly as it all began, the house lights are suddenly turning up and we're giving a standing ovation.

I can't tell if it was one hour or two, but time flew.

Everyone shuffles into the famous Duke's bar next door for more cocktails.

Everyone except me that is; I gotta go back to my hotel room to find some shorts.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

gohawaii.com/

GETTING THERE

Many major airlines operate frequent flights between Honolulu and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

See hawaiianairlines.com; qantas.com.au; virginaustralia.com; jetstar.com; fijiairways.com

Australian travellers don't require a visa to visit Hawaii, but need to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) online before departure.

See esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ 

STAYING THERE

Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, 2335 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, is in the centre of the main drag of Waikiki and the other side fronts onto Waikiki Beach. Rooms start at $260 a night.

See outriggerwaikikihotel.com

SEE + DO

Blue Note Hawaii, accessed from the Outrigger's lobby, holds shows most nights.

See bluenotehawaii.com 

DINING THERE

Dukes Waikiki, Suite 116, Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. See dukeswaikiki.com

Hula Grill, Suite 203, Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. See hulagrillwaikiki.com

 Marty Silk travelled as a guest of Hawaii Tourism and Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort

This story Hawaii's Blue Note: A new addition to the Waikiki night scene first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.