Kasey Chambers + Thelma Plum @ Taronga Zoo 10/02/17

by Profile photo of Alec SmartAlec Smart . Updated: 11 months ago
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Kasey Chambers + Thelma Plum

Twilight at Taronga Zoo, Mosman, Sydney, 10 February 2017

 

Review by Alec Smart

 

Kasey Chambers, the multi-ARIA Award-winning country-folk artist, performed a Twilight At Taronga sunset concert in the grounds of Taronga Zoo, Sydney, on Friday 10 February 2017. Support came from Thelma Plum, Triple J Radio’s 2012 Indigenous Artist of the Year.

 

When Thelma Plum first took to the stage with her two accompanying musicians, she seemed nervous and distracted. However, once she started singing, the crowd of picnickers unpacking hampers and removing corks from wine bottles paused their activities to show admiration – she has a distinct and pleasant voice.

 

Since winning Triple J Radio’s 2012 Indigenous Artist award, Plum has been busy performing – she headlined a nationwide 10-date tour, Unromantic Breakups – and recording, releasing two EPs – Rosie (2013), and Monster (2014). A recent collaboration with indigenous hip-hop duo A.B. Original on their song I.C.U. appeared on their Aboriginal-themed album Reclaim Australia, which topped the charts last Xmas.

 

Plum’s debut album, recorded in New York (where, coincidentally, she also had her passport stolen), is also due for imminent release.

At the Taronga Twilight show she highlighted several songs from the forthcoming album, including Swimming After Dark and Father Said, which, in keeping with her musical style, utilize digital vocal loops, percussion and haunting synthesizer.

On the more up-tempo How Much Does Your Love Cost?, the synth player swapped to a guitar to give it a more gutsy, rock’n’roll edge.

 

On some songs Plum strummed her own guitar, on others the synth resembled a string quartet, but generally she remained static in the spotlight, her voice ethereal, hands moving slowly like they were directing wayward traffic.

Aware of the concert location – the Taronga Zoo grounds – Plum described her fascination with one of the elephants, Gung, whom she now felt was part of the extended audience, adding the amusing punch-line about how she couldn’t resist discussing… the elephant in the room.

 

Beneath a full moon on Taronga’s open-air, harbour-front stage, country-folk singer Kasey Chambers settled in with her five-piece band. This included her father, the respected country artist Bill Chambers, on electric and lap steel guitars, and a young roots duo she recruited from The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast, who otherwise appear under the moniker Grizlee Train.

 

Chambers is clearly an accomplished veteran when it comes to entertaining a crowd, soon enticing people up to dance. Chatty, informal, sharing amusing anecdotes, she played material spanning her 16-year solo career, dominated by original tunes with more hooks than an angling competition.

 

Promoting her eleventh studio album Dragonfly – her fifth to reach the coveted number one spot atop the Australian music charts – Chambers appeared at the Twilight At Taronga concert only days before her nationwide Sooner Or Later tour, which sees her co-headline with Bernard Fanning (the former Powderfinger vocalist), with support from Canadian-Australian songwriter Garrett Kato.

Despite releasing successful albums in the interim, Chambers hasn’t topped the ARIA Charts since 2008, when she concluded a winning streak of four consecutive number ones with Barricades & Brickwalls (2001), Wayward Angel (2004), Carnival (2006), and Rattlin’ Bones (2008).

 

 

Incidentally, Fanning sang a duet with Chambers on the track Bittersweet on her 2014 album of the same title, although Dragonfly features vocal collaborations with Paul Kelly, Keith Urban, Foy Vance and Vika & Linda Bull.

 

After launching into two new songs from the aforementioned Dragonfly album, which only the week before attained certification it was the nation’s number one best-seller, Chambers performed her much-loved 2002 hit, Am I not Pretty Enough?, from her multi-platinum selling album Barricades & Brickwalls.

At the song’s end she pointed out a big burly fellow in a T-shirt clutching a stubby of beer and saluted him for singing along. The irony of a macho chap singing such a feminine lyric was not lost on the crowd.

 

The humidity of the evening – close to 40 degrees heat beneath a full moon – meant guitars had to be re-tuned frequently, but Chambers’ strong melodies kept rolling in like breakers on a beach.

At times her band reduced itself to lesser combinations, including the Grizlee Train duo playing one of their own blues-rock compositions, or Chambers would perform solo with acoustic guitar, accompanied by her harmonica.

 

With the full band, Chambers switching to dobro, they covered Little Feat’s 1969 ode to long-distance truck-driving-whilst-stoned, Willing, which features the notorious lyric, ‘weed, whites and wine’.

Chambers confided she loves this song because her father used to sing it to her as a young girl. It is amusing to learn that Willing is one of Bill Chambers’ favourite songs, considering his adherence to strict Seventh Day Adventist Christianity, because it got its writer, Lowell George, sacked from his tenure as guitarist for Frank Zappa’s band, Mothers Of Invention, due to its glorification of drugs, thus motivating George to form Little Feat.

 

Chambers then announced that her latest single, ‘Aint No Little Girl, from Dragonfly, is ‘the glue that holds the album and my whole life together,” adding ironically, “instead of spending a year in therapy, I wrote this!”

The song, a cascading tour-de-force that Aretha Franklin or Adele would kill for, has reviewers lauding Chambers for her new maturity.

And so, with the backdrop of Sydney’s beautiful moonlit harbour, surrounded by a collection of some of the most incredible flora and fauna in the world, Chambers launched into this emotional rollercoaster that was nothing short of awesome in its delivery.

 

Thereafter, she closed the set with The Captain, a song that she wrote aged 17 while she was in the family touring group Dead Ringer Band, which featured her father, brother Nash and mother Dianne – although the song itself launched her solo career six years later on her debut album of the same name.

 

Called back for an inevitable encore, Chambers appeared alone with guitar and harmonica and gave a droll summary of her youth where she spent a decade residing remotely on South Australia’s semi-arid Nullarbor Plains.

There her father scraped a living following seasonal work, like fox culling and lobster fishing, while, in between stretches of devout Seventh Day Adventist worship, the family played gospel and country songs together before forming a band, performing occasional gigs on the club circuits around Mount Gambier.

 

This inauspicious beginning, followed by her prodigious music success, two children and two failed marriages, she then summed up in a highly amusing spoken-word ditty from her new album, called Talkin’ Baby Blues, which had us all in stitches of laughter.

 

Finally, the full band returned for a rousing finale of Barricades & Brickwalls, from her 2001 album of the same name, Bill Chambers playing slide guitar with a stubbie bottle of beer.

 

Chambers revealed the title song and its accompanying single, Runaway Train, was co-written by her lighting roadie, Worm Werchon, who approached her one day with the ideas, assuring her that if she helped him write them, the record was going to be a hit.

He was right, it was; the album sold seven times platinum (seven million units), launched Chambers’ career in the United States, and as well as garnering eight nominations at the 2002 ARIA Awards, it won Best Country Album, Best Female Artist, Album Of The Year, Songwriter Of The Year and Female Country Performer Of The Year at the 2002 ARIA, APRA and MO Awards ceremonies, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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