It was fitting that Kasey Chambers opened this momentous show with a stripped down version of her band.

There was Poppa Bill and singing spouse Shane Nicholson digging deep into her rich catalogue and renovated Rattlin' Bones closet.

Kasey, Bill and Shane - Hamer Hall 2009

It was an edible entrée - especially for belated bush and suburban arrivals stuck in horrific traffic heading to see the greatest team of all at the MCG, Carol King and James Taylor at the tennis court and our taxes at work for rubber burning hoons who ensured no ducks were left sitting in a row on the bayside lake.

It was easy to feel sympathy for the battalions of beaus and belles, ducks and drakes who chose an aquamarine life close to the smoggy city many moons ago.

That was long before corporate bullfrogs and their political puppets made foreign states and me-too TV networks richer by depleting oil resources and creating bigger holes in the Ozone layer.

Parking was as hard to find as a punctual rural train, urban tram or honest politician.

No prizes for guessing who had the best acoustics - yes, it was the upper echelon artists at the late Dick Hamer's hallowed hall.

The long tall Texan singing actor had a stripped down version of his 12-piece Large Band.

The Chambers, raised in the bottomland of South Australia and Nullarbor desert, had already introduced their headliner to their favourite AFL footy team Carlton at the season opener the night before.

But tonight it was their chance to pay homage to the roots of their raising from the family fountain.

Kasey proved her songs, despite a minimal number penetrating corporate commercial chain radio, were known to the audience and stood the test of time.

She reached back to 1999 solo debut disc The Captain for the title track, Cry Like A Baby and The Flower.

Chambers tossed her Rattlin' Bones fragments into the CSI blender with her commercial career highlight Not Pretty Enough.

With a seasoned audience, raised on ABC radio and TV, RRR, PBS, Nu Country FM and regional and community radio, it was an aural pleasure for the audience.

And why there was a genuine praise from the headliner whose acclaimed quintet chose the sartorial splendour of times long passed.

Maybe a journey to an era when Texan Governor W Lee Pappy O'Daniel & The Light Crust Doughboys worked Lone Star dance halls and earned celluloid stripes in Coen Brothers movie O Brother Where At Thou?

Lovett's lads may have worn suits and ties but didn't suffer anal caged chook repression of moneychangers in the temples across the Yarra on desolation row.


The lighting was subdued as Lovett led his quintet - wielding fiddle, cello, percussion, bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar - into the hushed auditorium.

No screaming yo-yo to introduce one of the world's greatest talents to an audience littered with fans diverse as satirists John Clarke, Bryan Dawe and a brace of singers and musicians on a not so rare Friday night off.

The post 1986 recording career of Klein born Lovett, 53, is as eclectic as the posse of partners he borrowed songs from to adorn his live show.

It was an older man - Vince Bell, 58, who provided set entrée Sun And Moon And Stars from Lovett's 14th album Natural Forces.

Although Lyle honoured embryonic peers he was equally adept on a vast raft of originals that breezed from folk, country, gospel, jazz and western swing to bluegrass with ease.

Having a seasoned supporting cast - solo artist Keith Sewell on mandolin and acoustic guitar, Alison Krauss's brother Viktor on bass, fiddler Luke Bulla, cellist John Hagen and percussionist James Gilmer who all sang - was a luxury.

So were the preambles and patter that enabled Lovett, a regular in Altman movies, to work the stage and sound system as a true Texan thespian with droll delivery of pungent punch lines.

Now these anecdotes were not random - most were delivered to introduce a song or audience to Lovett's Australian travels and travails.

The first was a thanks to Chambers for introducing the concert and him to Australian Rules football.

Lovett sped from Whooping Crane, penned by fellow Texan tourist Nanci Griffith's ex-husband Eric Taylor, to verse swapping of Here I Am to his Truck Song with no gear crunch.

A brief flirtation with somnolent jazz morphed into fiddle driven Cowboy Man and the melancholic She's Already Made Up Her Mind.


Lovett's praise and interaction with his band enabled him to introduce One Eyed Fiona with fiddler Luke Bulla's tale about catching a Comedy Festival show by Fiona O'Loughlin.

But the real comedy was that delivered on this stage by the artist.

Lovett slowed the pace for melancholic No Big Deal, Walking Through The Bottomland and You Were Always There.

The introspective interlude ended as Lovett changed gears for rollicking road song Cute As A Bug and L A County.

Interaction with Bulla's fiddle and Sewell's mandolin peaked in delicious double entendre of a swinging moral compass in bluegrass belter Keep It In Your Pantry, penned with Lovett's San Antonio Girl - April Kimble.

"Things can happen in bluegrass," Lovett revealed. "You can get your heart broken in a country song but in bluegrass, you can get murdered".

Lovett's homily about veteran bluegrass legends risking band longevity by sharing vocal mikes was a fine illustration of the now quartet's in-the- round Up In Indiana and If I Had A Boat.

"In bluegrass your mouth gets really close to another man's mouth" he added. "It's no wonder some of these bands stayed together for such a short time. And it gives us insight into some of the bands that stayed together for a long time".

Also uplifting was inspired gospel couplet I Will Rise Up/No More Cane On The Brazos.

The meshing of the quartet's high lonesome alto or contralto with tenor, fivers and a dollop of baritone was idyllic bliss


It was a long way from the Brazos but Lovett exposed his feminine side with a self-deprecatory line or two about submissive males in another preamble - not She's No Lady, She's My Wife.

Maybe it was My Baby Don't Tolerate or Nobody Knows Me Like My Baby.

"This is a song about us menfolk," Lyle deadpanned.

"We always try to do the right thing, it's just that we don't know what it is".

Lovett drew on a NSW political debate on immigration to emphasise the problem Texans had with invaders from north of the Mason Dixon line in his intro to That's Right, You're Not From Texas.

"We had that same thing in Texas," Lovett explained, "with people from the north eastern states coming down. There was a cultural difference but we loved them - they made mighty fine Texans."

The singer also dedicated his encore to two long deceased peers.

Townes Van Zandt was honoured with oft-recorded White Freight Liner Blues.

And Walter Hyatt, famed for his Uncle Walt's Band with the late Champ Hood and very much alive David Ball, with I'll Come Knocking from his double CD Step Inside This House.

When the house lights came on it was time to peruse illegible notes and reach for the taped patter.

Any inaccuracies here can be blamed on that - readers can love it or leave it.

No review can do justice to the sparkling spontaneity of an artist touring here at the top of his game, long before the final siren.

Review by David Dawson with photos by Margaret Flynn

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