Review by Natasha Rachow
Life Upside Down Tour
Palais Theatre St Kilda Thursday, September 14th, 2023
Morgan Evans is on the last leg of fourteen sold-out shows across Australia, including two at the Sydney Opera House and a record-breaking crowd at Queensland Gympie Muster. For those of us lucky enough to follow the career of this Newcastle-born, now Nashville resident, they would have witnessed the best part of fifteen years of hard work and commitment. As a Newcastle local, did I feel proud to be there and watch this? Dam right I am.
Over the years, I have watched Evans grow from playing a dirty pub of less than a hundred to over twenty thousand a year later on the day stage in Nashville Tennessee. The common factor in all these performances was no matter what the crowd size, the determination and commitment has always been the same.
Waiting for this artist to take the stage, you are pumped up with taped music from John Williamson, Keith Urban and Garth Brooks. The crowd was a diverse mixture of the very young and old. They were all jumping, the mood was high, and the wait was over. Taking a more casual approach to the stage, Evans dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, with hair messed up and barefoot. He looks more like he’s just come off the beach in his hometown than playing a sold-out show in Melbourne. Suddenly, without notice, the smile, the white teeth, and this confident glow overtake the stage; the crowd love it. Evan’s permanent band members, comprised of Andrew Wilson on bass, Gideon Boley on electric guitar and Pete Brown on drums, are immediately swept away by this Australian country crowd.
Opening his set with Young Again from his 2018 album ‘Things That We Drink To’ you couldn’t help looking around at a crowd that knew every word. I scored a seat next to a lady well into her 60s, and she knew every word.
‘Country Outta My Girl’ highlighted the musician’s focus in the past few years, honing his craft in Nashville. I expected the set to be flooded with his most recent work and was not disappointed. ‘Kiss Somebody’ a hit when it was released, started the capacity crowd moving; not yet ready to stand there was some serious singing and swaying. A quick intro to his American brothers on stage, including letting the crowd know Gideon on guitar was single and looking for some cowgirl romance.
‘I Do’ was met with full audience participation; the lyrics are simple, but you got the impression the power over a few thousand voices hit this humble bloke right in the face. In between the vocals, the grin had every girl smiling. Early on the set, I noticed how comfortable Evans has become at this career stage. Many would have given up, and potentially, had it not been for the determination of mentor and manager the late Rob Potts to push him to a worldwide audience, he just might have given up, too.
An acoustic version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ showed an undisputed passion for this country and allowed him to sneak this in safely. I doubt he would do this in America. Band members could only look on as the audience took over; it was very special. A good old sing-off playing ‘Love is Real’ split the house down the middle; everyone on the stage just watched as each side strived for domination.
I have not seen Evans play the piano for a long time; his deeply personal penned ‘Over for You’ put out to his fans and public just how deeply hurt he was when a relationship ended. He is not the first musician to seek therapy through a song, but these are powerful lyrics. Maybe after all the trauma in reflection, he may find something so bad has strengthened his exterior a little harder; only he knows. Constant public scrutiny and innuendo has resulted in a new single called ‘What Does That Say About You’. This will get a lot of attention, and I don’t need to expand anymore; maybe listen to the song. ‘Dance With Me’ drew obvious emotion around the capacity crowd.
Support artist, former school mate and obvious friend James Johnston joined Evans on stage. Sitting centre on stools, Evans asked his guitarist Gideon to play ‘Some Texas’ for the audience. His instrument of choice was a resonator, much like a dobro, only deeper. ‘All Right Here’ was his song of choice featuring Johnston on harmonica. ‘Things That We Drink To’, dedicated to his late manager, relayed some powerful words and feelings. It is a special moment when a person not only feels but can write lyrics so powerful that it will last a lifetime. A few thousand mobile phone lights add to the emotion. Anyone at CMC will remember Potts watching proudly over Evans from the side of the stage, red wine in hand.
‘Hey, Little Mama from the 2023 ep started the audience moving, standing, and dancing. ‘Day Drunk’ and everyone was up, smiles from the man on the stage. It’s catchy fun and stable of most people’s playlists.
‘I Still Call Australia Home’ finishing with a new song ‘On My Own Again’ Evans left the crowd with a very emotional insight into where he is in his life right now. The lyrics contained a very clear message of when you’re struggling to seek comfort in the place you feel the best. For him, this is at home in Australia, with his friends, where he can be himself, powerful, relevant stuff.
Another smile and pause to take in the moment, and he was gone off the stage and onto the next show in Adelaide for another sell-out night. Sure, I am proud. Nobody does it like a country crowd, but when it is one of yours selling out everywhere he goes, you can’t help but smile, especially when you know where he has come from.
You couldn’t end this review without mentioning support artist James Johnston. Over the past two years, Johnston has gone from relatively unknown to a rising Australian country superstar. On the back of selling out Tamworth’s biggest venue in the middle of country music’s biggest festival. Johnston’s stage presence is enormous; his fan base ranges from the young to the very old. A young girl sang every word even the new songs and got the thrill of her life walking down and getting a selfie with her idol.
Johnston started his set with his 2021 smash ‘Raised Like That’. It gives the audience exactly what they wanted, something old and dropping in a brand new. Songs like ‘Got it Good’ and ‘My People’. A pause in his set and acknowledgement of his songwriting experience with Country artist Troy Cassar Daley. The song titled ‘Proud’ was dedicated to his dad and how proud his dad must be. Acknowledgement to his wife and children followed including a special sneak peek of a new song featuring a phone-recorded version of his son singing the bridge. Johnston’s new single ‘We Grew Up On’, was sung full volume by his backing crowd. I have to say Johnston’s engagement with his audience was special. As quickly as it started the ten-song set was over. Taylor Moss joined Johnston for his hit ‘Same Song’, finishing his set with ‘Talking About’., let the Full House ready for Morgan Evans to start the show.Country fans who have yet to experience James Johnston need to witness the experience.