In the absence of active duty from Sydney band Little Bastard, the various members have pursued solo projects (they kind of already did anyway) and relatively new group The Daphne Rawling Band, led by Ross Tipper features a few members of the rag-tag LB collective, as well as a couple of Cruisin’ Deuces. The punk-ish bluegrass aspect of Little Bastard has been refined to a band that thrives on bittersweet country rock and heartache balladry. Though some songs drifted by, there’s no denying the song-craft and quality of musicianship on display.
From an 8-piece rollicking band, the sage was reduced to a single mic and an acoustic guitar for a mesmerising set from Melbournian Leah Senior. Stylistically she sits somewhere between a less spooky and eccentric Aldous Harding and the likes of Laura Jean and Tiny Ruins. With a beautiful, pure voice she entranced the audience with songs about the celebration of freaky people, her fear of telephones and summer’s descent into autumn. She’s a diminutive figure who plays a fairly naked and poetic form of folk music, which creates a sense of nervous tension in the audience, but once Senior started singing it quickly became apparent that a songwriter, confident in her talent, was at work.
Henry Wagons deserves an ARIA for best male performer. Of course award shows are redundant, pointless and generally serve to prove up an ageing industry but recognition of the man’s all-round talents is due. As a songwriter, musician, singer, frontman, raconteur and general entertainer there are few in this country that can touch him. Wagons is touring his recently released and very good solo album and he brought with him a stellar band (The Only Children) that included Nashville keys player Skylar Wilson and one of this country’s finest guitarists in Matt Walker. From the outset it was clear this was a band of superb players – the kind who know when to step forward and slay the room with a solo or sit in the pocket, riding the groove while Wagons commands the stage like a bombastic vaudevillian Las Vegas preacher.
Wagons is the star of the show, from the merch desk laden with onesies, vinyl, tea-towels and hip flasks to the stage where he sang songs from his new album and a couple of covers (Never Been To Spain) and took the audience on a journey from Friday after-work drinks to rock n roll abandon, carefree dancing and sing-a-longs. Wagons knows how to pace a show – including an interlude of solo songs before adding local quartet All Our Exes Live In Texas on duet and backing vocals. From there on it was a head-down and drinks-raised run to the end of the set which included the album highlight Santa Fe and culminated in an epic performance of Willie Nelson with Wagons staggering and dancing through the audience, bringing the chorus to a hush before gathering all the voices in the room for an exultant, rousing celebration of both the man they were singing about and the highly enjoyable night of song, laughter and rock n roll they’d just experienced.