28 FEBRUARY 2007

It was clear from the entrée this was not a meeting of the Temperance Union.

More reminiscent in some pockets of the audience of the extras from movies by the Kens - Russell and Kesey - in the basement scene of The Music Lovers or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Or maybe just parodic panels from the every day dreams of singer-satirist Fred Negro who held up the bar before it turned the tables.

Yes, this was Dale Watson's Seven Year Itch tour and scratchings included previous tour promoters and the recently deceased.

The Texan trucking troubadour kicked off with Whiskey Or God (title track of his 13th album) released in Europe under the name of the evening's finale song Heeah.

That famous little hand was on 10 and big hand on 12 as Watson and his four piece Lone Stars cleared the stage of Detonators - his hard riding and rocking support act.

Then the drinking anthems flowed - Tequila & Teardrops, Tequila, Whiskey & Beer replete with beer drenched floor redneck choir) and Hair Of The Dog.

The pause that refreshed and punctuated was Cowboy Lloyd Cross from his 1996 disc Blessed Or Damned but not That Man In The Lloyd Crease altered for legal reasons for 1999 album People I've Known, Places I've Been.

And in a pre-emptive strike Watson showcased social comment single Justice For All at song 10 although both the album and video (featuring Desperate Housewives star and guitarist James Denton) is a month away.

He used covers of George Jones classic A Man Can Be A Drunk (But A Drunk Can't Be A Man) and Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down as apt chasers for A Couple More Beers Ago and Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint.

The latter was enriched by an open invite of free hot dogs for all fans who visited the Austin scene of the rhyme - Ginny's tip jar temple.

For an extra nip fans were treated to Honky Tonk Wizard Of The Bar, Honky Tonkers Don't Cry, She Must Have Come Back, Leave Me Alone and Have You Got It On.


Unlike precious peers with a disdain for paying fans this was inter-active audience participation with a stream of full shot glasses delivered to Dale and his Lone Stars.

In appreciation and stark contrast to Steve Earle and cloth eared decibel droogs at the same venue the sound crew ensured the pedal steel of Don Pawlak and Don Raby's fiddle weren't lost in the mix.

Watson covered all bases with road tested semi staples Truckin' Man, Flat Tyre and Truck Stop In La Grange and resurrected album title tracks Cheatin' Heart Attack, I Hate These Songs and Blessed Or Damned.

It may be trite to say Watson is a populist but his longevity owes so much to his adept reading of audiences.

Country comment songs Nashville Rash and That's Country, My Arse were delivered with humorous verve and a reptilian venom.

It was a generous gesture to invite Sydney blues man Johnny Green to lead on Leon Payne's Lost Highway and Hank Williams tribute to first wife Audrey - I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You.

Green, whose live shows are often blues heavy, drove his lap steel fuelled laments and traded licks with those Lone Star Dons on steel and fiddle.


Watson complimented his guest on a matching pair of Hank and Lefty tattoos, long time Sydney benefactor Karl on his gift of a tattoo to the singer and Route 66 owner Ross Waddington for four western shirts to hide it.

It was that sort of show as the midnight hour came and wage slaves left as Watson proved he was not the Lone Star by giving drummer Herb Belofsky and fiddler Raby room to roam.

Watson's three hour plus show honoured late peers Presley on Viva Las Vegas, Cash on Merle Kilgore-June Carter tune Ring Of Fire and John Hartford on 1968 Grammy winning Gentle On My Mind.

Watson poured his heart into mellow songs that broke the booze bank - Heaven In Baltimore, England To Texas (probably the only Princess Diana eulogy) and Sweet Jessica Brown.

After opening his stage to a cowgirl and Indian he used his encore to shine a light on bassist Gene Kurtz who sang Treat Her Right - his historic 1962 hit for Roy Head.

That encore also featured trucking classic Exit 109, Phillip At The Fill Up, I Don't Want To Quarrel With My Baby, a laboured Orange Blossom Special, a Mavericks song and finale Heeah.

Ervin Rouse and Chubby Wise's Orange Blossom Special may be one of the most performed country staples as a Cash converter.

But Watson seemed to owe a debt of sorts to Raby who was put through his paces while others two stepped out the door and down the stairs to the mean streets of St Kilda.

With the long burning flame still attracting neon moths at 2 am it didn't seem to be a drama as the goal umpires compared song tallies and thanked Whiskey and God that songs were performed in their entirety not memorabilia medleys.

It was but a small radar blip on the lost highway for an artist who will be welcomed back with open arms and swinging doors on his return.


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