Dave Dobbyn: Open Up Tour
Southward Car Museum, Paraparaumu; Kapiti Coast
Wednesday, October 28
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen Dave Dobbyn play a live set – but there was a time when I was at every gig. It’s never been a case of not needing to see him, as far as I’m concerned, every show is different and I’ve never seen a ‘bad’ performance. It’s just been a case of life being in the way the last few times he was anywhere near my town.
This time though – he was near enough to my town for me to take a drive. First time for me seeing a show inside the Southward Car Museum, and it’s a pretty great venue. I’ll look forward to more gigs there. But of course we’re just grateful to even have gigs. Which is what this tour was entirely about – rescheduled from its first announcement, due to a second wave of restrictions.
It’s a four piece band that takes the stage, Dobbyn front and centre, flanked by Victoria Girling-Butcher (guitar and vocals) and Jo Barus (bass and vocals) with trusty road-dog Ross Burge at the back behind the kit.
And instantly we are treated to the mercurial musical moods and worlds that Dobbyn seems to effortlessly summon as Belltower’s winding riff unfurls, curling through the room, seemingly working itself out in real (reel) time.
This was a celebration of the hits, a stripped-back rock show – no piano interludes. Some priceless circumlocutory banter (of course) and the songs that stack up as hit after hit, tunes for all occasions and for all ages.
Hanging In The Wire is upbeat country-funk, one of the lesser known songs on the night. But there’s no pesky new or unknown tunes. Whaling and Loyal arriving almost immediately to make everyone comfortable, secure, nostalgic. That’s actually the gift Dave Dobbyn offers with his music – those three feelings/settings. Comfort – we know this, we know this to be good, we know we are lucky to be out and nearly shoulder to shoulder and we are familiar with these songs and this sort of setting. Secure – we are safe. These songs, too, are safe. They are not going to get away on us nor the writer – they’re locked in. These songs are about us and our place. These songs are indeed a part of us. Nostalgic – we knew ourselves once before in these songs, we recognised the world this music was made from and in, we like to be reminded of that.
Beside You, dedicated to an audience member that recently lost her husband, they used to sing it to each other. Now Dave sings it for her and all of us sit and think about not only that but about the people we have in our hearts, the ones we get to give hugs to, the ones we wish we still could.
The band sits deep inside these songs – what a pleasure it must be to serve them. Instant and forever commanding hits. There’s poetry (Blindman’s Bend), there are anthems (Be Mine Tonite), and even the big dumb belters (Bliss, Slice of Heaven) are not only served with a smile and in absolute style, they transcend any novelty-aspect when you hear one of the country’s best ever songwriters take up the extra mantle of being one of the country’s best-ever guitarists.
Barus and Girling-Butcher were stoic supporters of each tune, playing strong parts without ever wishing to get in the way of the magic, only helping it to achieve its goal, watching as deceptively simple, exquisitely crafted pop songs made their mark again and again. And Ross Burge. His bass drum hits in Loyal felt like the catcher’s mitt taking the ball that Dobbyn hurls; his head swinging and shaking along with every chord change, his ability to replicate the fills from the records he never played note-timing-and-feel-perfect is as impressive as the internal driving clock that keeps the ship steering straight. Propulsive.
There were little glimpses, as there always are, of the songs that have almost slipped through the cracks – Lap of the Gods, It Dawned On Me – and there were so many hit tunes that when a straight-ahead rocker such as Love You Like I Should arrived late in the set you could see people nod in amazement as if to quickly click, “Ah yes, this one too!”
This as well. That’s the thought I had as each new song arrived. This one too. Also this. Another gem. Yes, this as well.
And some blistering guitar solos, Just Add Water, often applied via a keyboard, was positively electrifying with Dave Rock-God-ing his way through it, and such beautiful band cohesiveness. To make it look this easy and sound this good and feel this right is the gift that comes from a lifetime dedicated to the art. To the craft. To the sweat and spit and grunt work of it all too.
And for Dobbyn to take his perfectly curated set of hits to the country in a year when shows stopped, when life was put on pause, when uncertainty crept up the spine of all the charts like the only runaway single, well, it was these little slices of heaven that we welcomed home, and that welcomed us in return.
In one of so many lump-in-throat moments, Welcome Home was the evening’s final song and as powerful as its mood and feeling was it was Dobbyn’s plainly spoken introduction that got me most of all. His reminder to us that, “whatever happens, welcome them in”.
I feel that way about so much of his music. Whatever happens in my life, wherever I am, I’ll welcome it in. It makes me feel comfort, security, nostalgia. I like those things.
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