Kasey Chambers – El Rey Theater (Los Angeles, CA)
On her last visit to the West Coast, in early 2002 and many months pregnant, Kasey Chambers had collapsed onstage in San Francisco, prompting the cancellation of the Seattle finale to a month-long U.S. tour. The Australian singer-songwriter made good this time through by starting in Seattle, with a busy stint in Los Angeles following a few days later.
First came a taping of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on February 5, performing “Not Pretty Enough” from last year’s Barricades And Brickwalls, her sophomore release for Warner Bros. Though she’s big enough to make the late-night TV rounds these days, she also seems determined to keep one foot in the grass-roots realm: Later that night, Chambers turned up at Hollywood nightclub Molly Malone’s for its monthly “Sweethearts Of The Rodeo” alt-country gig, making a three-song guest appearance.
The next day was booked solid. Chambers made an on-air stop at one of L.A.’s top country radio stations and then headed to Amoeba Records for a short in-store performance — both of those visits just a prelude to her primary L.A. gig that night at the El Rey Theater.
A pleasant billed surprise was a brief solo acoustic opening set by her father, Bill Chambers, who also plays guitar in Kasey’s band. Dad recently put out his own record, and he showcased a few songs from it, spiking his own originals with a dead-on cover of Mary Gauthier’s “I Drink”. (Two weeks later, in Nashville, Gauthier would join him onstage at the Belcourt Theater for a duet version of the tune.)
After a subsequent set by the scheduled opener, East Tennessee country-jazz upstarts Robinella & the CC String Band, Kasey took the stage and delivered a solid, if somewhat short, set drawn from both Barricades and her 2000 debut The Captain. Gracious almost to a fault between songs, Chambers offers little superfluous flash or fanfare in her performances, simply delivering her first-rate material purely and passionately.
As has been the case for a couple years now, a highlight of her set was an incendiary version of Lucinda Williams’ “Changed The Locks”. But it was a different cover, Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”, that provided the show’s most memorable moment. After explaining that she’d grown up touring Australia with her family’s Dead Ringer Band, Kasey invited her mother Diane (who runs the merch booth on Chambers’ tours) and brother Nash (who runs the sound board) onstage to join her and her father for a beautiful one-song acoustic Dead Ringer reunion. It was a sure-fire way to bring the thousand-plus crowd to a reverent hush, before she brought back the band and rocked them through the rest of the evening.
Ironically, Chambers’ month-long tour concluded in almost identical fashion to her previous U.S. trip: The final shows, this time on the East Coast, were canceled (plus an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien) after Chambers was diagnosed with a hemorrhaged vocal cord. Dates in New York, Boston, and Northampton, Massachusetts, have been rescheduled for mid-June.