The Caravan Music Club, Monday November 5, 2012
Kelly Joe Phelps visit to Australia was about as low key as the man himself. A pity in a way because more people deserve to enjoy his wonderful guitar technique and mesmerising songs. Still, those who made it to the Cup Eve show at the Caravan – and there was a lot of competition that night – were treated to enormously enjoyable show.
Musicians can often have surprising effects on their audience. Immediately after this show one enthusiastic punter said that it was his gig of the decade and one of the best gigs he had ever attended. While the immediate response might have been to tell him he should get out more often, I can understand how Phelps might elicit such a reaction. Phelps’ guitar playing on either acoustic guitar or the National steel resonator was often dazzling, his singing spellbinding.
Luckily, someone had the foresight to close the window between the venue and the public bar next door thus allowing the silence required for Phelps’ low key performance.
There is certainly nothing showy about Phelps – he is dressed simply in jacket and fedora and eschews a lot of repartee – and his music requires concentration. He delved back into his career for songs such as ‘River Rat Jimmy’ and leapt forward to selections from his latest album Brother Sinner & The Whale, and interspersed them with some interesting covers.
A fabulous reading of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘God Don’t Never Change’ indicated that Phelps has certainly studied his sources. The rhythm was intense and often stirring as he managed to slide into a groove, especially evident on the National.
Naturally, there was a fair smattering of songs from the latest album, which was apparently inspired by Phelps’ reflection on Christianity. ‘Down To The Praying Ground,’ ‘Goodbye To Sorrow’ and ‘Talkin’ To Jehovah’ all voice those concerns in a compelling fashion.
It is easy to understand why Phelps is held in such esteem by his peers and it was excellent to be able to enjoy his music in such an intimate setting, even if career-wise he might have hoped for (and deserved) a larger crowd.