Category Archives: Kasey Chambers

Remember December, Vol. I: Concerts of the Year

Any year that I see Juliana Hatfield in concert is a good year. And a year when I see her twice? Logic, at least my logic, says it should be good times two – i.e., great. And to see Juliana cover not one but two Olivia Newton-John songs while backed by Wesley Stace & the English UK? The surreal sweetness of the moment just can’t be beat. For that alone, 2017 should be damn near the best year of them all.

But this has not been a normal year. It’s as if someone spiked the water supply with mescaline in January and the hallucinations have yet to end. I’ll sidestep diatribes about America’s answer to Hugo Chavez, the human Scrooge McDucks that call themselves Republicans, and the leches that call themselves men, and instead share this:

When the music starts, we just slip away – just like a river rollin’ down…

Live music often has a more visceral impact than via CD, LP or digital download. It’s an immediate connection. You feed off the performer, he or she feeds off you and … you’re there, wherever there is, not stoned but STONED, and not from drink or drugs but from the music itself. The worries of the world cease to be, albeit for a few hours, and when you leave the venue you feel spiritually renewed.

From Lights Out in January to Patterson Hood (of the Drive-by Truckers) this past Thursday, and including such stalwarts as Graham Parker, Garland Jeffreys and Shawn Colvin, we enjoyed more live music this year (21 shows by my count) than the past few years combined. Some shows were good, others great, and a handful absolutely sublime.

First, though, a caveat: As all things “best of” on this blog, I work from a deck stacked by my aging demographic, idiosyncratic tastes, and budget. I enjoy singer-songwriters with folk-rock and/or country overtones, and delight in discovering new artists within that realm, and generally rock out to the same artists I’ve rocked out to forever and a day, including (but not limited to) Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, the Kinks, Joan Jett, Paul Weller and Juliana Hatfield, among others.

And, with that, here’s Remember December, Vol. I: Concerts of the Year. (Click through to read my original reviews.)

1) Paul Weller with Lucy Rose at the TLA, 10/4/17. This show fell in what was the awful week that included the mass shooting at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and the passing of Tom Petty. Perhaps that explains the jubilation I felt at being able to forget, if only for a few moments, and let go. And, too, it was just a killer concert.

2) Kasey Chambers at the World Cafe Live, 7/5/17. Breathtaking. That’s the only word for this show, which found the Aussie country-music maven weaving heartfelt odes from thin air. Even now, watching this video, I’m stunned at how good she is.

3) The Juliana Hatfield Three at the Boot & Saddle, 4/24/17; and Juliana Hatfield with Wesley Stace & the English UK at the Ardmore Theater, 10/12/17. When formulating this list, I found myself going back and forth as to which of these shows should be third or fourth on my list. At the Boot & Saddle, Juliana and the Three personified “brutal grace.” It was raw, raucous, loud and great, and – given than the bulk of the setlist was Pussycat-heavy, cathartic. The only strike against it were the muffled vocals.

The Ardmore show, both in her solo set and when backed by the English UK, was near the reverse, with an expansive set list that included such gems as “Slow Motion” and “Somebody’s Waiting for Me,” and way-cool covers of two Olivia Newton-John songs. Here’s one:

Watching that clip again, just now, I couldn’t help but to smile.

Anyway, both shows spoke to me in equal measure. Her songs, new, old, rocking, mid-tempo or ballad, are ingrained in my soul. So, why rank one above the other? For the purposes of this list, the two concerts are a tie…

4) Courtney Marie Andrews at the Boot & Saddle, 5/9/2017. As I wrote in my review, this was as magical and mesmerizing a concert that I’ve had the pleasure to witness in my concert-going career. Courtney reminds me of Shawn Colvin circa the early and mid-‘90s, who synthesized a wide swath of influences into a hypnotic whole.

5) The Staves at the World Cafe Live, 3/9/2017. What did I love about this show? Everything! Within moments of its start, it felt as if we’d stepped through a time portal to some point in the early ‘70s. About the only thing missing: bell-bottom jeans.

And, finally…honorable mentions: Bruce Springsteen on Broadway was the definition of compelling, but not a conventional concert due to the monologues. Thus, I’m not including it within my Top 5 (though, if I did, it wouldn’t knock Weller from the top spot). Also, Garland Jeffreys at the World Cafe Live Upstairs was grand; Lulu at the Sellersville Theater was wondrous; Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer at the World Cafe Live were sublime; and Tift Merritt at the World Cafe Live was utterly captivating.

As Tift sings, “Love Soldiers On.” And it does.

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Today’s Top 5: Cool Sounds, Vol. Whatever

On Tuesday, a former supervisor mentioned to me that she’s been obsessing over Jason Isbell’s latest album, The Nashville Sound.

I wasn’t aware that he had a new album out. 

In my defense: I’m not overly familiar with Isbell, his oeuvre or that of his former band, the Drive-By Truckers. Diane is, however, and informs me that we actually had tickets to see the Truckers during the Isbell years, but didn’t go because one of us was ill. In 2015, we saw him accompany his wife Amanda Shires on three songs at the World Cafe Live, when she opened for Lee Ann Womack – well, “see” is being generous. Our seats were to the right of the soundboard, blocking the left half of the stage – where he stood, more or less.

Shires is another of Diane’s artists. Just as, say, First Aid Kit are one of mine.

Until this summer, when we consolidated for air-conditioning purposes, our desks and computers – where we both do much of our listening – have been in separate rooms for decades. So while there is plenty of music we enjoy together, there’s much that we each like that the other knows primarily from osmosis, if at all. Back in the pre-Internet era and our 5-CD player, that was far less frequent. Oh, we both had artists we enjoyed more than the other, but nights-long Acquire or Tetris tournaments ensured that we heard just about everything the other was listening to.

Which is a longwinded way to say: I could and probably should have been familiar with Isbell long ago.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Cool Sounds, Vol. Whatever.

1) Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – “Last of My Kind.” So, Tuesday, I pulled up Nashville Sound in Apple Music and listened to it on my commute home from work; and this, the opening track, sent not the proverbial chills up or shivers down my spine, but a flash of recognition through the synapses of my soul. True, the song charts an experience far from mine – that of a country kid in a big city – but the haunting refrain is a universal lament for any of a certain age.

We, the children of the ‘70s and ‘80s, are indeed the last of our kind.

2 First Aid Kit – Glastonbury, 6/21/17. Klara, Johanna and band deliver a great set at the annual Glastonbury Music Festival in Somerset, England. Among the highlights: “Ghost Town” and a song from the ‘70s…”The Gambler.” (Yes, the Kenny Rogers hit.) Also, in an interesting development – Johanna has traded the keyboards, which is what she primarily played on the 2014-15 tour, for bass guitar. There’s only one drawback…

3) First Aid It – “My Silver Lining.” …which is, if you watched all 45+ minutes of the above, you’ll have suffered concert interruptus due to the exclusion of the set’s last song, “My Silver Lining.” But it’s okay: BBC Music posted it.

4) Beau + Luci – “Muddy Water.” Here’s another sister act, this one from the swamplands of southern Georgia. (For more on them, see my Q&A with them.) This is another gem from their recent Fire Dancer EP.

5) Kasey Chambers – “Crossfire.” So I’m still buzzed from the Kasey show we saw on the 5th – how could I not be? Here, she and the band perform one highlight (of many) from her 2001 album Barricades & Brickwalls.

And three bonuses…

6) Joe Pug & Courtney Marie Andrews – “Insider.” So Joe and Courtney are touring Down Under – and, as Joe explains here, discovered that they both like Tom Petty. (How could anyone not?) Here, he plays Tom to Courtney’s Stevie Nicks on this classic song from Petty’s 1981 album, Hard Promises.

7) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Something in the Air.” So Diane and I saw Tom & Co. way back in 1989 – a great show that included their cover of this Thunderclap Newman classic. Here’s their Live Anthology rendition of it…

8) I’m With Her – “Little Lies.” Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and Aoife O’Donovan band together in a wondrous folk collective they call I’m With Her. Beautiful work.

Kasey Chambers in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an alt.country delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist: