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Kasey Chambers creates huge problem

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, July 6, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Kasey Chambers may just have done in the rest of her tour in after only one show. After all, how could the Aussie singer top the opening night of her month-long string of shows in the U.S.?

Yes, Chambers was that good in a show that was fun, humorous both in word and song, lively, well sung and played with a free flowing bent to it as well.

Chambers unfortunately hasn't been a big visitor to this side of the Pacific with this her first Boston show since 2004 (at least according to a die-hard fan). She has not had any commercial hits, although her albums have been well-received. "Little Bird," her new disc out next week, is yet another excellent demonstration of her extensive abilities. Despite that, only about 220 people showed up, filling 20 percent of the theatre.

It would have been easy for Chambers to turn in a lesser performance given that this was the first night of her short U.S. tour and the lack of a crowd on the upper two levels.

No problem for Chambers whatsoever, even if she was about six months pregnant. The setting was informal for the start with Chambers and her trio seated while launching into You Day Will Come from her duo disc with Shane Nicholson. The appearance may have been one of a relaxed setting, and the group was often seated. Maybe it was relaxed, but what became clear here and throughout was that Chambers' voice packed a wallop.

It would come through time and again on slower, heartfelt songs like Not Pretty Enough and the harder country of Still Feeling Blue to the opening song of the two-song encore, Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Even within the same song, Chambers could mix up her delivery.

She didn't do it alone though. She had a lot of help from Ashleigh Dallas, who is all of 18 and seems far more experienced. She added fiddle fills, but more importantly excellent backing and even a bit of vocal lead lines. Michael Muchow on banjo and guitar and Chambers' father, Bill, with whom she has always played, on guitar, lap steel and guitar filled out an excellent band (Bill also opened the evening with a likable 20-minute set. He has a recording career in his own right).

Chambers said afterwards that while the group had played together, this was the first time they had gone pretty much acoustic, but that seemed to matter little.

Chambers also was an extremely engaging personality. She told great stories, including her upbringing in the outback of Australia where they found a different place to sack out every night because her father was a professional fox hunter. She has a keen sense of humor, laughing easily at her own stories and quickly and easily knocking down any barrier between performer and audience.

Chambers humorously told the crowd that they are bluegrass fans and asked if there were any bluegrass players in the audience. Not a one. "Good," she said. "We are not bluegrass musicians at all." With that, they played Georgia Brown, one of four songs offered from "Little Bird."

They later went back to bluegrass with a medley. That was after Chambers said they enjoyed bluegrass and educating the Aussies about it, but they couldn't play a lot of the genre without losing the crowd. With that, the quartet burst into a bluegrass version of

Not Pretty Enough, The Captain (both already had been played in their regular versions), Beat It and that bluegrass staple Stayin' Alive. It grew corny, although the idea of doing her songs bluegrass-style veered far more towards the serious side and worked. Nevertheless, the intent was to show a different side of the group.

Further evidence was provided on Do You Remember, featuring a vocal give-and-take between the Chambers. The song was from "Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill and The Little Hillbillies," an Aussie release featuring members of the Chambers family both old and very young. The song was at once funny and relatable.

Chambers clearly was having a lot of fun throughout, ending the regular set with a country romp We're All Gonna Die Someday. Chambers closed the night with the title track of her biggest disc, Barricades & Brickwalls, which ends with the line "I'll take you away/Like a force 10 hurricane."

Chambers did not have to be that forceful to put on a great show. But she also may have created a huge problem for herself because she set the bar so high for the remaining nine dates of her U.S. tour. It's hard to imagine her doing any better than this.