Back in the 1950s, the 5th of November was bonfire night, where every citizen of the small country town where I grew up, contributed to the building of said bonfire and stocked up on fireworks. Bonfire night was wild and wonderful, full of excitement, fun and danger.

These days the nanny state would frown on such events, so one way to let off steam on this 5th of November was to attend the triple whammy show at the majestic Thornbury Theatre.

You could, I suppose, compare a Henry Wagons show to bonfire night. It sparkled and fizzed like a penny bunger, then took off like a rocket.

Jordie Lane

It started quietly with a half hour set from local boy Jordie Lane, just come from a homemade roast chicken dinner, so he informed the audience.

He performed half a dozen songs, drawn from his repertoire of two highly regarded records Sleeping Patterns and Blood Thinner, singing such songs as War Rages On, inspired by a visit to Vietnam, and murder ballad Publican's Daughter. He introduced Hollywood's Got A Hold by relating a story where he was alone, broke and hungry in the City of Angels and stumbled into an AA meeting being held in a sandwich shop, and was welcomed as a fellow alcoholic, despite his protestations that he only wanted a sandwich. He finished his set with his best known song, the romantic I Could Die Looking At You.

Joe Pug

Joe Pug stoked the fire and delivered his characteristic intense and fervent performance, starting with Nobody's Man, before pausing to explain his presence at the show. He was invited by Henry Wagons this time around to tour with him on Henry's return to Australia. He was expected to play the Cup Eve show at the Esplanade but was held up in Perth by the Qantas strike/lockout; despite the inconvenience he declared his support for the striking workers.

Hailing from Chicago, Joe Pug has been compared favourably to Dylan, writing killer lyrics - they are complex and forceful and generally anti-establishment. He is a dynamic, passionate performer and you can feel his sincerity and love of music palpably in his stage show. His set lasted an hour and he performed such classics as Unsophisticated Heart, How Good You Are, I Do My Father's Drugs, Hymn 35#, Hymn 101# and Nation of Heat. There was a request for his most popular song, Speak Plainly Diana which he left to last.

By the end of Joe Pug's set, figuratively speaking, the tom thumbs had all been expended and the penny bungers were about to give way to the big bangers and sky rockets. Yes, Henry Wagons was about to come on stage.

Henry Wagons

Henry Wagons has recently returned from touring the USA, and is performing a number of solo (and with band) shows, touting his new album Rumble, Shake and Tumble the follow up to the popular Rise and Fall of Goodtown. He has been described by Jeff Jenkins in Impress as "one of Australia's great live performers. He's a showman, a storyteller and an unlikely sex symbol. With that headband, he looks like a crazy '70s tennis player, but I think he's more like the Australian version of Warren Zevon. He has a wonderfully wicked, dark sense of humour, but he's also capable of delivering truly beautiful songs".

I would certainly agree with the above statement. Henry Wagons is riveting - a real firecracker of a live performer and he has a fabulous Johnny Cash baritone voice, that suits his country rock style.

Henry's performance on the night of the 5th November was ostensibly solo, though after playing a few songs solo, he summoned his "third favourite" band member Si Francis to the stage to provide washboard accompaniment and a few songs later his "second favourite" band member, guitarist Chad Mason, and later still invited Jordie Lane and Joe Pug to join him.

Entertaining the crowd with a number of songs from his repertoire, Save Me for one and the astounding crowd favourite Willie Nelson, he also performed a number of interesting covers. Never Been To Spain, written by Hoyt Axton and covered by such artists as Elvis, Waylon and Three Dog Night, was one, and the romantic Elvis number Separate Ways, which Henry declared he first heard on a visit to Graceland.

Jordie and Joe joined Henry et al for a rendition of Long Black Veil and Lawyers, Guns & Money, a classic Warren Zevon song, which ended his set.

He returned for an encore and sang My Daydreams, and then what Henry called his favourite Christian song, with Joe Pug providing harmony vocals, I Like The Christian Life, before ending the show with the fabulous Rise & Fall of Goodtown.

As a substitute for bonfire night, the Wagons, Pug & Lane show at Thornbury Theatre was almost as good as I remember bonfire night being. It was hot and sparkling and great fun.

Review and photos by Anne Sydenham

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