Live Review: Kev Carmody

22 February 2016 | 1:36 pm | Joel Lohman

"It feels as if our nation's history is filling the entire theatre, reverberating in its walls."

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After a screening of Songman, a 30-minute documentary detailing the making of his new album, Kev Carmody ambles unassumingly on stage and eases himself onto a stool. In his signature red headband and a black, yellow and red shirt, Carmody greets us like old friends. Beginning with Thou Shalt Not Steal, Carmody makes frequent reference to how much better other people sing his songs than he does, although it's impossible to imagine they imbue them with as much history, meaning and emotion as he does tonight.

Carmody speaks at least as much as he sings during his time onstage. Referring to us — hopefully affectionately — as "you mob" or "you fellas", he establishes a relaxed, friendly rapport with the audience (to the point where referring to him by surname feels oddly formal). Carmody remains a master storyteller, both during his songs and between them. Droving Woman offers a glimpse into a life of wrangling cattle. The song is a moving tribute to his mother, but it also feels as if Carmody is teaching us city folk about what it's like to live in this country. Sliding Into Chaos is a rattling, clattering guitar instrumental that illustrates that, while Carmody may not technically be a virtuoso on the instrument, he can certainly extract some evocative sounds from it. Moonstruck is one of those indelible songs that feel like they've always existed — hard to believe it only appeared in 2003. You can feel the audience hold its collective breath when Carmody plays that G chord, waiting for the "Spirit of the moon here calls me home" lyric. It is one of those perfect musical moments you feel right in your chest.

Carmody says he is now going to play the "hollow stick," indicating to a didgeridoo at his feet. First, he tells us about walking with his uncle three miles deep into the bush to learn, because if the white men heard the didgeridoo his uncle would be "taken away". The combination of this story, watching this 70-year-old man lower himself onto the floor to play for us, and the sound he creates when he does, is incredibly affecting. It feels as if our nation's history is filling the entire theatre, reverberating in its walls. Carmody leaves the stage to a standing ovation.

Upon returning, he says, "I know what you mob want to hear, but he's over the road," referring to his From Little Things Big Things Grow co-writer, Paul Kelly, who's playing tonight in Hamer Hall. As soon as Carmody begins playing those iconic chords, we know we're in for something special and it truly is. Singer Missy Higgins says in the Songman documentary that she believes the song should be our national anthem and the feeling in the room, as we all sing along, makes a strong case for that. Spectacular stuff. 

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