Having gone to concerts for decades, for the first time that I can recall, I went to opening nights of tours on consecutive nights this week. And the end results for Jolie Holland and Kasey Chambers were decidedly polar opposites to say the least.
Holland is touring off her new disc on Anti-, "Pint of Blood," while Chambers started a very short U.S. tour behind next week's release of "Little Bird."
Neither has enjoyed big time careers here. Holland started off seemingly more country and rootsy. She toured steadily, and her profile was rising on the Americana scene, but she has not enjoyed any hits. Holland, who lives in Brooklyn, also last had an album out in 2008 with "Living & The Dead." Long gaps in between albums do not exactly help build a career either.
As for Chambers, she hails from Australia, which has been a large part of her problem As she said after the show, she has no intention of moving to the U.S.. Oz is her homeland. She has two boys there with another child on the way in October. Her family also is rooted there. The problem has been that she hasn't toured all that much in the U.S. Her Boston show this week was her first in Beantown since 2004. This time around, Chambers is only playing nine shows and not coming close to covering the U.S. She is avoiding the West Coast entirely. After a Dallas show on July 15, next stop is Fiji. (no joke)
Holland's tour opened on Tuesday at Club Passim, the venerable Cambridge, Mass. folk club. Her first show sold out with about 135 people present, which led to late scheduling of a second show.
About 40 people showed up, and let's just say there were major problems including forgetting words, the band being out of sync (the quarter apparently did not have time to practice beforehand, something kind of important if you haven't played together before) and Holland giving off vibes that she was not so comfortable with how things were going either. She had reason to be uncomfortable.
When it came time to the encore, she couldn't even figure out what to play even though she was out there without her band. I mean, couldn't she have figured this out in advance since chances are an encore was in the cards?
Opening nights aren't typically the highlight of a tour as Holland unfortunately proved.
Chambers, on the other hand, may have suffered from the opposite problem. The extremely affable Chambers was at the top of her game during a divergent, highly enjoyable 95-minute show.
You would never have thought this was the opening night of her tour. For Chambers and her three backing mates, this also was not their usual deployment because a lot of the show was done acoustic. Two of the band members have been with Chambers for less than a year (on the other hand, the other band member - Bill Chambers, aka dad - had been there since before the start). You would never have known that either with great singing from Ashleigh Dallas and playing on fiddle.
Chambers also has a slew of excellent songs from which to choose and turned in strong covers of Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel. A bluegrass medley was fun and different, resulting in probably the loudest applause of the night.
Chambers was upbeat and funny throughout the show, relating stories of her odd childhood where her father was a professional fox hunter in the outback of Australia.
The contrasts from one night to the next were stunning. There was little to get excited about from Holland, while Chambers dished out quite simply the best show I've seen this year.
Too bad Chambers doesn't or can't make the U.S. more of a priority. She's such a great singer and performer who puts her Aussie twists on country - and it's a traditional brand of country. Check her out if you can in concert and buy "Little Bird," another excellent album from Chambers.
You never know what you're going to get from one night to the next as Holland unfortunately and Chambers fortunately made totally clear in a tale of two concerts.