The air-conditioned band room of The Northcote Social Club was the perfect way to escape the offensive heat and enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon. The venue was well under capacity when support act Rattlin’ Bones Blackwood took to the stage, but the Dallas Green look-alike managed to captivate those who were there with his rowdy, dirty blues ballads.
His striking physical resemblance to Green (under the recording moniker City and Colour) stretched even further, right down to the tattoo sleeves and the oversized Gibson guitar. Blackwood took the handful-sized crowd of the Social Club on a trip down to the Deep South – redneck country – with his old school, Hokum tales of small town hoedowns, drunken brawls and cheating lovers.
Singing into a silver replica Vector Microphone behind a cartoon skeleton-branded drumhead, the one-man-boogie-band opened with ‘I Feel So Good’, fantasising about outback murders and saloon doors. With a fast drumbeat and metallic licks, his folklore numbers were long and whiskey-soaked. He crooned about doing “the boogaloo boogie”, before expressing a desire to “shoot that mother fucker down”, a smooth, cheeky roots combination of taboo-tinged lyrics and rockabilly charm.
Melbournian blues & soul talent Shaun Kirk came out with little fanfare, but a big smile. Juggling a knockabout Cole Clark acoustic and harmonica ensemble, the young singer-songwriter looked at home in the cosy living room vibe of the Social Club. The gig was part of his ‘Two Hands on the Wheel’ national tour, supporting his latest full album release Steer The Wheel. The turnout could only be described as an intimate gig, with pairs and partners dotted around the Persian carpeted band room. Kirk’s explanation: “maybe some people found a pool on the way!”
He launched into his stripped-back set, his raspy vocals thick and throaty from a self-confessed lack of sleep. His trusty mouth organ is always a crowd favourite, breaking into a zippy solo in every song. Fan favourite ‘Tranquility’ was played early in the setlist, showcasing Kirk’s mellow rhythms and carefree songwriting. The tour’s titular hit single ‘Two Hands on the Wheel’ was next. The cruisy track played out like a country road trip – all summery rhythms and beachy lyricism – peppered with mouth organ breakdowns and silky slide guitar licks.
The 26-year-old was candid and chatty between songs, with down-to-earth anecdotes about life on the road early on in his career. Fun track ‘Chicken & Corn’ – a diet he lived off for two months! – emerged from relentless regional tours in a garish orange Kombi (“How many road side assistances must I call? RACV”). He singled out his mother – literally, she was standing by the bar – as his best friend and inspiration, impressing the ladies in the audience who swooned in response to his mama’s-boy admission.
He performed a rousing rendition of BB King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, and debuted a brand new original song, working-titled ‘Big Brother’. The work-in-progress track riffed on the disapproval of modern-day surveillance and living in a privacy-breached new world (even if Kirk began the song singing “in the wrong key”).
The 30-40 something crowd may have been sparse, but most were genuine fans, and clearly fans who admired Kirk’s raw musical talent, humbleness and relatability. One supporter capitalised on the cosiness of the gig by busting out some cringe-worthy dance moves up the front – much to Kirk’s delight. The boozy, spontaneous routine played out against Kirk’s soaring chorus vocals – reaching impossibly long and pitch-perfect husky heights – so the wide demographic audience could be entertained by Kirk’s abilities AND his fan’s awkward techniques.
He thanked the crowd (his “friends”) for being so supportive and coming out despite the heat – particularly chuffed that nobody heckled him to sing ‘Khe Sanh’, which apparently usually happens. His inimitable blues-flavoured style is unaffected by a need to be radio friendly or “popular”. His voice is organic and gently gruff, a funky mix of youthful vitality and old soul maturity.
Shaun Kirk is a young blood troubadour with a zest for living life to the fullest and a good head on his shoulders.