[MUSIC ~ Indie/Power Pop ~ USA]
Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Sat 4 May.
Tonight is the last night of Stephen Cummings tour. In fact, it is the last concert of his career; After a career of over forty years, he is done.
In some ways it is appropriate that the last show was a bit like his career in general. A bit under-appreciated, under-attended, more than a few moments of genius, an enthusiastic but meagre audience celebrating the music and career of musician that deserves a proper heralding at a hero’s last stand. The Gov is far from full, but the couple of hundred people who are here are lifers with Cummings, through the hi-octane power pop years with The Sports, to his soulful and delicate singer songwriter solo years. We love this guy.
Proceedings kick off with the always impeccably dressed Dave Graney and his life and musical partner Clare Moore. Clare is pulling double duty tonight (playing keys with Dave and drums with Cummings later) and like Cummings, Graney has a staggering, eclectic, fascinating body of work that stretches back to The Moodists, The Coral Snakes winning ARIAs and becoming mainstream for a time, to endlessly amusing and constantly moving of his brand new album Zippa Deedoo What Is/Was That/This. So their set has some old favourites like Night Of The Wolverines and new material like the hilarious UltraKeef (about the Stones guitarist) and the wonderful I Wish I’d Been A Better Pop Star; both from the latest album. They’ll be back at The Gov on Fri 12 Jul (with the fab Sunday Reeds).
Tonight is all about Stephen Cummings, His trips to Adelaide haven’t been frequent in recent years, the odd Day On The Green bill or gig at The Wheaty, and almost always just him and a guitar. The last time I saw him with a band was in Melbourne four years ago for some special Sports reunion shows (which were well worth the trip). So it’s a treat to see him with a tight three piece combo; Moore on drums, Sam Lemann on bass and long-time collaborator, Bill McDonald on guitar. They play an elongated introduction of what turns out to be an extended Don’t Throw Stones from the 1979 Sports album of the same name. And just like that we are all back in 1979, like the last four decades never happened.
Tonight was, however, not going to be a pandering stroll down ‘Greatest Hits’ lane. There were certainly some hits, but my guess is the set list was really about Stephen’s favourite songs, hits or not. Fell From A Great Height from Falling Swinger (1994) and When Day Is Done (New Kind Of Blue 1989) change the mood to tender and beautiful, before the surprise inclusion of the funktastic Hell (You Put Me Through). I don’t think I have ever seen him play this song, and it’s pretty marvellous.
Not going the easy route through the best known songs might have disappointed the casual listener, but as mentioned, it’s pretty much the die-hards out front tonight. Which means the glorious inclusions of songs like Do You Still Love Me, The Brighter The Light and Raymond Chandler & Edward Hopper, September 13 – a song written by Steve Kilby from The Church for Stephen’s Falling Swinger record and it’s a beauty. All of these songs may not have been solid gold chart toppers but they are fantastic none the less. By the time he is ripping through the rockabilly-esque The Popular One from the Firecracker album his voice is sounding magnificent.
Throughout the night Cummings tells jokes (“How come the Miss Universe pageant is always won by somebody from Earth?”) and encourages us to “Get up and dance, it won’t kill you…or maybe it will!” There are a couple of songs from the latest record Prisoner Of Love, like the splendid Mr Ripley. Dave Graney is invited back on stage to add some vocals and tambourine to The Sports’ classic Who Listens To The Radio? and by now everybody is testing if the dancing will actually kill them. What a great song. We sing and dance and punch the air. It is a truly euphoric celebration.
The band returns for an enthusiastic Your House Is Falling which continues the dancing. For the second encore, the final song which is Then Comes Love from Prisoner. It’s a terrific slow paced song with some great guitar work from McDonald. They play it well, but it does seem a little odd to perform a fairly slow song most people aren’t familiar with the last song of the last ever show. The applause as Cummings leaves the stage is thunderous though. The people in the audience have spent their lives with his music as a soundtrack and this is the last chance to see him play it live; I hope he feels suitably beloved.
Four decades of going to see this great artist, listening to and loving his machine gun new wave, his dance songs of the gymnasium, his tales delicate tales of love and loss. I’m going to miss him.
Images courtesy of Ian Bell