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, as the night unfolded, 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 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.