EVEN – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne Friday 22 December 2017
Review by Geoff Jenke
The first band I saw this year was Even at the Grace Emily Hotel playing their debut album, Less Is More, in full, as well as a set of Even classics. I said at the time that this could possibly be the concert of the year and in fact the best concert I had seen Even play since the legendary 2003 Jive concert. At the 2003 show they played for 3 hours (the set list only went for 90 minutes), taking requests, doing covers and improvising. It has remained the second-best concert I have ever seen in my near on 45 years of attending shows. However, as the year went on I saw bands like Dan Baird, Explosions in the Sky, The Tea Party and The Stems and the Even show sort of got pushed back a bit.
Even are Ash Naylor, who also plays for the Rockwiz Orchestra, Paul Kelly, solo and basically with anyone who will have him. He is the best guitarist Australia has ever seen, in fact I would put him up there with Page, Blackmore et al. Wally Kempton (also know as Wally Meanie) plays a powerful bass and also is a member of legendary Australian band The Meanies. Matthew Cotter is on drums and must be the least likely looking rock star in the history of, well rock stars. Think Charlie Watts from the Stones. Matt’s set up is as simple as Charlie’s and his playing every bit as good.
Even have been around since 1994 and I came on board after Triple J started playing their second album Come Again in 1998. It wasn’t until 2003 I first attended an Even gig, the now legendary Jive concert that the band still talk about today. It was a show that goes down in the annals of rock n roll as a classic and only about 100 people saw it. Even’s singles and albums over the years have always been of a high standard. Rolling Stone magazine even nominated them Hot Band of the Year in 1996. They have toured overseas and are favourite to bands like The Dandy Wahols and Belle and Sebastian, who insisted they support them on a past tour of Australia. Midnight Oil also used them on some dates of their current world tour. American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer, Ken Stringfellow, is also a fan. He has played on a lot of REM tracks and has toured with REM as part of the band regularly since 1999. On the last tour of Australia Ken played with REM across Australia in arena’s, then picked up with Even for another pub crawl across Australia. One day the Adelaide Entertainment Centre then soon after at The Grace Emily. Totally unrehearsed the line up of Even and Ken was something to behold and their 3 ½ song Bee Gee medley had the crowd in rapture and their version of Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World almost blew the Grace Emily apart.
Ok, by now you understand Even are no “just another” pub band but something special. Unfortunately, they just get to play another pub at this stage. For many years they have played Christmas shows in Melbourne and sometime Sydney and in 2016 I finally got to one. Luckily my wife is also a bit of a fan and agreed we should go again this year.
The show was promoted as Even with Even as support band. This suited me as we got to see two sets by this legendary band. They opened with the classic Mayfair Laundry Bus and the brilliant I am The Light. Already this show was heading into one of the finest Even shows I had ever seen and we are just a few songs in. Wally thanked the audience “For coming to see the support band”. To the Lights follows with its Byrds like guitar jangle, then the classic Sunshine Comes which is followed by a newer song Out of the Woods from their yet to be released new album. “Yes, I know I have been saying that for 3 years but it is finished” Ash said. He also told us he wrote the song Back in the Woods well before Taylor Swift released her song of the same name. Need Action followed and again I don’t believe I have ever heard this song live before. Another rare live airing came in the form of an old “b”-Side song, Are You Happy Now. No Surprises followed and yes there were no surprises how good it was. Ash commented “Hoping all those Radiohead fans searching for No Surprises on Youtube finds our song instead”. And no, it is not a Radiohead cover. Something better.
One of Even’s greatest songs came along, Coming Back to Earth in furious fashion. At this stage I must admit I have never seen the band play this well before. There has been no such thing as a bad Even show in the past, it’s just that some are better than others. Another surprise was the set finale, Tangled Up from their self-named album of 2007.
During the interval the DJ’s gave us a set of mostly 60’s Australian songs which was a nice change from the usual songs you get during the interval of any band.
Set two just kicked in where set one left off. Electric Light started the set with the instrumental track Thunderbird following. Stop and Go Man and Shining Star, complete with audience sing a long participation, roared the crowd into a frenzy.
Wally and Matt exited stage left leaving Ash alone to perform the acoustic song Too Dark from the In Stereo CD. Ash regaled the fans with the story of his wish for Bruce Springsteen to record a version of this song. “Of all my songs this is the one I wish the Boss would cover. Can you imagine it?” Yes, actually we could. He then played another single “B” side in Racing to Christmas. Well, it was Christmas after all. Ash started Newfarm solo but then first Matt joined in with Wally following soon after, giving the song the full band treatment at the end.
The latest single, Victoria, hasn’t grown on me yet but must admit is sounded far better live than as a single. An extended Black Umbrella led into Even’s finest moment, Rock and Roll Saved My Life with a version of Wings Jet in the middle. Jaw dropping and awesome. And just when you think things couldn’t get better, they play We Are the Purple Nazz. Did I say Rock and Roll Saved My Life was Even’s greatest moment? Purple Nazz just blew everyone away and in the middle, Ash played a series of classic rock riffs, Zeppelin, Petty, Purple etc. I doubt there isn’t a rock song Ash can’t play. Usually Purple Nazz ends their set but tonight we get a volatile Life Gets In The Way. Surely the night couldn’t get any better than this?
Yes, Virginia, it does. Bowie in My Dreams is rolled out. Ash has made no secret of Bowies influence in his song writing and music. The night finally ends with a loud and raucous I Have Nothing. Even had played about 30 songs in two and a half hours. The scary thing is, I could name another dozen or so great Even songs that weren’t played.
Even should be playing the Entertainment Centres of the world, not hotels, such is the quality of their music and songs. Most people I know who love music don’t know Even, however everyone I have ever taken to see them have always gone back.
Concert of the Year!!!
In an alternative universe Even are the biggest band on the planet. In this universe they are our secret. Will some one please take this band and make them huge……
P.S. And what was the best show I have seen in my 45+ years of concerts? The Rolling Stones 1973, Memorial Drive, Adelaide.