On the back of a five-date tour around Australia to support his new four-track The Double Life EP, Bob Evans was back in his new ‘home’, Melbourne. Performing at Bella Union in Carlton (the Trades Hall building on Lygon St) the stage is set up in a small intimate room with hardwood floors, velvet curtains and a fridge stocked with local boutique beers – always a good sign. The hall is littered with small cabaret style tables and chairs, which are clearly the ‘get there early’ premium seating.
Arriving mid way through support act Thelma Plum, I couldn’t help but think there was an element of Julia Stone about her. Her performance seemed to go down well with the small and still-building crowd. After what seemed like a longer-than-usual interlude, Bob Evans aka Kevin Mitchell emerged from the side stage with a Christmas-lit guitar in hand. Stepping straight up to the microphone to perform the first song, I waited in anticipation for the lights to dim …. they didn’t.
Looking like a man on a mission, he launched straight into the first single from the new EP, Don’t Want to Grow Up Anymore, and it felt like this was an artist just going through the motions. Even the crowd seemed a little flat. At one point I didn’t really know what to do with my hands and I hoped the whole night wouldn’t remain so clinical.
Maybe it was the red wine bottle he was periodically drinking directly from or maybe he needed to warm into the crowd, but things slowly began to loosen up.
A small technical issue on Hand Me Downs saw his guitar strap fall off mid harmonica solo, but like a true musician, he never missed a beat – remarking to the audience during the break “you knew you weren’t coming to see a professional, or if you didn’t you have probably worked that out by now”.
Changing things up to do a stripped-back nylon string rendition of Friend he announced that the new album would be called Familiar Stranger and will be released in March 2013, before performing another new song called Sitting in the Waiting Room. Listening to the lyrics and seeing the near silent room, you really got a sense of how casual yet captivating Bob Evans’ songwriting is. He has a John Lennon-esque storytelling ability.
Working through some of his better-known material Nowhere Without You and Pasha Bulker incited an impromptu singalong from the crowd. Taking a moment between songs (but not talking directly into the microphone) resulted in a “we can’t hear you” from the crowd, to which he replied “you aren’t listening”, before stepping off the stage to perform an unplugged version of Don’t You Think It’s Time.
As the crowd was focused on one individual and as the mirror ball shone twinkly lights on the walls, it felt like the perfect musical moment – until the fire alarm went off two bars from the end of the song. Ever the spontaneous artist, he returned to the stage, found the key to the siren and performed an ad lib song to the tune of the fire alarm, raising great applause from the crowd.
After calling for requests, he invited an attendee named Jesse to the stage to play harmonica for him. Jesse confessed it wasn’t his first time on stage with Bob and he had previously been called up at a gig in Warnambool some time back. Things just seemed a little too staged to be unplanned, despite both Bob and Jesse’s objections to the contrary. Once Jesse began to play what sounded like flawless harmonica, I was certain this was all part of the act, but as we left the building I heard people comment about how ecstatic Jesse was. If it was a set-up, it was well done sir.
Before finishing, Bob took more requests from the crowd, performing Darling Won’t You Come, which he dedicated to his wife and Me and My Friends, which had been requested more than once during the night. He stepped from the stage and behind the curtain, only to hear the call for an encore, to which he obliged. He admitted that this was the first concert of the tour to have an encore, mainly because the other venues didn’t have anywhere backstage he could go.
Thanking the crowd and finishing for a second time, he stayed around well into the night to sign autographs and take photos with anyone who wanted one.
While all the talk lately has been on arena bands like Coldplay and Radiohead (and they have their place) it’s good to know there is still a crowd for amazing intimate performances like this.