Written by James Killen
I finally got myself to the Heights Theater last night to see Kasey Chambers and Parker Millsap do everything within their musical power to burn that place to the ground. If you haven’t made it by there yet, it is a cozy little venue with every seat a good one and a fully stocked bar. The staff is friendly and accommodating. Most of the seats are general admission, although there are some tables up front and a couple of comfy looking boxes in the back that can be reserved. I managed to show up with neither of my memory cards for my camera, and I could have kicked myself as the view from our seats was pristine.
Oklahoman prodigy, Parker Millsap opened up the show with a full electric band. I’ve always seen him in the three piece version with fiddle and stand-up bass accompaniment. This night the bass was a Rickenbacker and a drum kit added. Millsap played an electric hollow body and brought that bluesy vocal style that is rare in someone so young. They kicked it off with the fiddler burning up his bow on a rousing “Hands Up” followed by the title track of his last disc, “The Very Last Day”.
The rocking continued with “Pining” followed by a distinctly staccato “Palisade” and a very powerful rendition of “Heaven Sent”. The band slowed it down and Parker brought out his harmonica for the lament on early rising, “The Morning Blues”. He worked his way to one of my long time favorites, “Quite Contrary” about a seedy backstreet where all of the addicts and street people are characterized as nursery rhyme personalities.
The band waded slowly into a version of Mississippi Fred McDonald’s “You Gotta Move”. (Most folks would recognize it as a Rolling Stones standard). They built that slow dirge up into a brilliant rocking blues number. Keeping the pace to an energetic crescendo, Millsap and band ended their set with “Hades Pleads”.
This was, by far, my favorite performance by one of my most favorite up and coming artists. It was the kind of opening act that would intimidate any headliner. That said, Kasey Chambers and band blew them away as the main act.
She started off softly with “Wheelbarrow”, plagued slightly by a faulty cord crackling through the tune. While the roady worked to correct the issue, Kasey turned on that sweet Australian charm, chatting up the audience and sharing road stories. Then even though she has a new album out, she promised to do a lot of the old ones too, before kicking into “Not Pretty Enough”.
Kasey was accompanied on this evening by an Australian two man band called Grizzlee Train. They turned on the bluegrass style for “Rattlin’ Bones”, followed by a song inspired by Ms. Chambers’ eldest son called, “Is God Real”. Brandon Dodd delivered an excellent acoustic solo on the KC classic, “Pony”, before Kasey turned on the vocals for “Can I Be Your Stalker”.
The band didn’t break out any of the new songs until the seventh number, when Kasey broke out her dobro for “If I Died” and the band really rocked that one up. Then, she toned it down for the tear jerker “Henri Young” about a seventeen year old petty thief that was accidentally forgotten in solitary confinement on Alcatraz for three years. When he was let out he had become feral and immediately stabbed a fellow inmate to death. He had not exhibited any violent tendencies prior to his extreme isolation. Kasey stayed in the mellow frame as she performed a new tune on her banjo ukulele.
Percussionist, Josh Dufficy, donned a washboard and Brandon picked up a banjo for “Georgia Brown” and “Little Bit Lonesome”. Kasey left the stage as the Grizzlee Train boys performed their frantic “Running Home” with Josh moving from beat box to drum kit and blowing the harmonica and Brandon dancing all over the stage with wild guitar solos and vocals.
The audience was given a chance to catch its breath when Ms. Chambers applied her vocal talents to Lowell George’s “Willin’” only to be roused up again with the central theme for the new double disc, “Dragonfly”, “Ain’t No Little Girl”. This was the defiant version of the song with a powerful vocal punch and an equally powerful guitar solo. KC ended the set with the first song that she had ever written, the ever popular “The Captain”.
The crowd supplied a rousing standing ovation and the house lights stayed down which left anticipation that an encore was impending. The crowd was not disappointed as Kasey Chambers came out accompanied by former flame, Harry Hookey and his harmonica to play her Dylanesce “Talking Baby Blues”.
Hookey left the stage and KC was rejoined by the other two band members to close out the night with an energetic cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Arms”.
I’m afraid that last nights’ performance might have spoiled me for a while. It has been a long time (if ever) since I was in such close proximity to two such powerful vocalists, singing poignant songs and accompanied by such energetic instrumentalists. This was a perfectly paired set and anyone further down the line of this tour shouldn’t miss it.