Kasey Chambers @ Palais Theatre

Another concert that got delayed and delayed and delayed yet again finally happened! Great show with something old, something newer, and a country cover of Eminem I never knew I wanted.

I’m a very casual country music fan at best, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Kasey Chambers, and I genuinely adore Rattlin’ Bones, the album she made with her then-husband Shane Nicholson. I saw them both live in concert back in 2008 (yikes) and thought that Kasey especially was simply wonderful, one of the natural-born storytellers who were meant to be onstage. As with many other recent gigs, this joint event with Busby Marou went through many reschedules after I first purchased the ticket back in 2020, and you could tell that everyone was simply stoked to be back playing to live audiences.

Busby Marou were good, but it’s fair to say that their brand of country music doesn’t do as much for me. In general I’ve noticed that, a handful of Johnny Cash classics aside, I just don’t seem to connect with male country singers, and all the country artists I really like happen to be female. It’s not a case of some broader bias either (looking at my music collection, female singers dominate when it comes to solo artists, but the vocalists for the bands I love are overwhelmingly male).

Kasey was exactly as I remembered her from the last time I saw her: a warm, funny and engaging woman, with a raucous laugh and a knack for making fun of herself as well as her bandmates. She cracked many self-deprecating jokes about her “screechy” singing, her banjo playing and life on the road as a sole female among fourteen blokes. Kasey’s voice is still strong and clear as a bell; very late into the gig she stepped away from the mic to deliver a spine-tingling a cappella I Still Pray. It was also lovely to see the strong connection and chemistry she shares with her band, especially when they all huddled in a group around the microphone for a couple of songs.

Because the show wasn’t really about touring a specific album, it was an interesting grab bag from Kasey’s long musical career along with some surprises. It opened with Not Pretty Enough, her big mainstream crossover hit, and leaned quite a bit on her successful Barricades & Brickwalls album while also dropping in some later songs. I was super-thrilled to hear the title track from Rattlin’ Bones, my personal favourite; you never know how artists may feel about an album they made with their ex, so it was nice to see it get some love. I also enjoyed Busby Marou much more when they joined Kasey’s band at the very end for a few covers – a Van Morrison classic Days Like This and Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House.

The highlight of the night was another cover, and a pretty unforgettable one at that. Have you ever wished for a country version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself? Me neither, but it turned out to be something truly special. It started off in a stark, slow fashion with just Kasey’s vocals and the banjo, before the band joined to rock the roof off the Palais Theatre. The crowd took it as a bit of a joke at first, but in the end this bet-you-didn’t-expect-that pick got Kasey and her band a standing ovation when it was over. She really reached deep inside and channeled the song’s anger and desperation, and looked like she needed a moment to recover from the sheer intensity of it all.

I noticed that there was a lot of alcohol flowing in the audience, and near the end of the show there seemed to be some sort of drunken altercation in the back rows. It was mostly covered up by the performance, but I did feel sorry for the Palais staff who had to deal with it, as well as the people sitting nearby who couldn’t ignore it as well as I could. For the first time I’ve been to Palais Theatre, everyone was asked to leave through the side door rather than the main entrance. When someone complained to the staff that squeezing everyone into a narrow passage wasn’t exactly safe, she replied cryptically that it wasn’t safe out there either, so maybe there was some sort of escalation once the rowdy party was escorted out.

This unfortunate incident aside, it was a great night and hopefully it won’t be another almost fifteen years before I see Kasey Chambers live again.

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