Dave Graney and Clare Moore start the night’s proceedings with a set of mostly recent material with the exception of a few dips into the past, notably Night Of The Wolverine after which Dave and Clare exchange the first of a couple of high fives. His song introductions are just as entertaining as the songs and even Clare was raising an eyebrow and laughing at times. “If there’s any Vicars here or Nuns, I’m sorry” precedes the profanity-laden ULTRAKEEF, a “fuck you” chronology of Keith Richards’ life. It’s like a Rolling Stones song through the filter of Dave Graney, which is exactly what it is, with Clare on Honky Tonk cowbell. Their tribute to the Rolling Stones continues with an actual cover of Time Waits For No One and for the rest of their set I can’t help but hear a little bit of the Rolling Stones in nearly every song that follows. Dave ends the set by getting political with the topically relevant Let’s Kick This Mob Out, using the repeated refrain of the title as advice for the upcoming federal election.
Jim Pavlidis’ art of Stephen Cummings from the A Life Is A Life tour poster could be a courtroom sketch it is that accurate a representation of the Stephen Cummings that arrives on stage to perform tonight, looking like an almost sibling of Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson. He starts singing unannounced, backed by his band, calls out “more of me, more of me” within the song in a style not too far from Van Morrison’s latter-day mumbled vocals, dances like an embarrassing uncle (mirrored on the dance floor by some unselfconscious individuals who have left their seats) and throws off his jacket to an applause from the anticipating audience. After having almost lost his voice in this rendition of the first song Don’t Throw Stones, he makes a couple of jokes before the continuing with Fell From A Great Height. He calls out “play some guitar… play some more” to guitarist Sam Leman (who I later mishear introduced as “Sam the man”). He takes off his glasses, folding them before trying to put them in a shirt pocket that isn’t there and mostly singing with his eyes closed, he subsequently looks blind without them.
He states, “If I break down and cry tonight it’s because I’m retiring from music after tonight” but this doesn’t sink in until much later after the set has concluded when there is a general murmur of surprise and disbelief amongst the remaining audience, some having been unaware of Stephen’s recent announcements. “I hope I haven’t spoiled your evening. That would be typical of me” precedes When The Day Is Done, which leads into the funkified Doors-like dirge of Hell. My immediate thoughts are reinforced by Stephen’s exclamation of “Yeah, funk it up baby!” Rasping he calls out with a vocal that’s not quite there, forever in the early stages of laryngitis. His voice is not quite up to it but that doesn’t’ make it any less entertaining.
Mr Ripley is his tribute to author Patricia Highsmith after having read her biography and following Do You Still Love Me? the set changes gear with the moody almost spy-theme of September 13, introduced as, “a song I worked on with Steve Kilbey”. He asks for the lights to go down for the next couple of songs performed accompanied only by Sam on guitar. After the songs When Love Come Back To Haunt You and The Brighter The Light, the other band members (Bill McDonald on bass and Clare Moore on drums) return for Raymond Chandler And Edward Hopper and Stephen asks, “showstoppers wouldn’t you agree?”
Clare starts a Bo Diddley drumbeat and Stephen calls out to the audience, “Get up and dance. It won’t kill ya… maybe it will”. This is reiterated during Popular One when he calls out “Come on and dance you ratbags” and gradually the audience start to leave their seats.
Dave Graney is called forth from backstage to be absorbed into the band to shake the tambourine and sing during Who Listens To The Radio? and the number of people dancing increases significantly. What had started as a shambolic but endearing performance (on Stephen’s part, as the band was always tight) had evolved into something more. It was almost as though my general lack of familiarity with the scope and diversity of the songs was a positive and when the musical millstone of Who Listens To The Radio? arrived, I almost wished that it hadn’t, the hit being a clichéd call to arms to corral the audience onto the dance floor.
There was redemption in the first encore song of Your House Is Falling Apart as by this late stage, Stephen had warmed up and his voice sounded better than it had at the beginning when it had sounded strained. There was a “Thank you very much” from Stephen to the woman who offered him a bottle of water (which he might actually have benefited from ninety minutes earlier) and it is with this exclamation that he leaves the stage, the band playing on for a few moments longer. They are coaxed back by the enthusiastic rapt audience for one final song, Then Comes Love during which Stephen clumsily finds it hard to keep his well-crumpled lyric crib notes on the stool in front of him. His final words are, “Thank you very much. See you later alligator”, and he leaves only to return minutes later to sit on the edge of the stage for an impromptu meet and greet while selling merch to the devoted who, if the reports are accurate, may have perhaps seen him perform musically for the last time.
Live Review by Jason Leigh