Live Review: Clare Bowen proves in Perth her music is anything but a vanity project with Imogen Clark, Timothy James Bowen and more

Thursday night saw fans of the TV series Nashville descend on Perth’s Astor Theatre for the opening night of Clare Bowen’s Australian tour. Bowen of course, best known for her role as singer-songwriter Scarlett O’Connor on the show. Earlier this year, the show wrapped up after six seasons, leaving Bowen free to complete and release her debut self-titled solo record, and return home to Australia for a short tour.

Kicking off the night was a short set from Clare’s brother, Timothy James Bowen – clearly the Bowen’s are a musical family. Though it was only a brief set, Bowen successfully got the crowd warmed up with his brand of rootsy folk. Vocally it was a strong performance, and there was some nice variation in the guitar playing too, sometimes when it’s just one man and a guitar it can get a bit stale, but not here. There was a definite optimism and positivity to Bowen’s songwriting, a theme which would return throughout the course of the night, but it never felt schmaltzy.

Second up was Sydney’s Imogen Clark, who released her second album Collide earlier this year. Much like with Timothy it was a pretty sparse set up, with just Clark on stage with her guitar. From the start it was pretty clear that she’s got a hell of a voice, and it was a very strong vocal performance, but for me it just lacked a bit of a variation and nuance, for the most part she seemed to have one setting – belt it. “Too Late” and “High Tide” from Collide were two of the songs that really stood out for me, the former inspired by a visit to New York, and meeting someone at the wrong time in their lives.

Backed by a six piece band, featuring both her husband Brandon Robert Young, and her brother on guitar, Clare Bowen bounded on stage to “My Song”, the first of several songs from Nashville that would feature throughout the set. It was evident from very early on in Bowen’s set, that music and touring is no vanity project, nor is it simply a cheap attempt to capitalise on a show’s popularity – Bowen is an adept performer, singer and songwriter in her own right. Whilst, it is true that the success and popularity of Nashville has perhaps opened some doors for her, and allowed her the opportunity to pursue her music (something which Bowen herself seems all too aware of, and thankful for), there is no denying she has talent.

The set was a mixture of songs from her debut self-titled record, which had an Australian release earlier this month, as well several drawn from her time playing Scarlett O’Connor. Perhaps, unsurprisingly the tracks from the show’s soundtrack garnered the greatest reaction from the crowd, with “Black Roses” notably getting a strong reaction, along with “When The Right One Comes Along” and “If I Didn’t Know Better”, with husband Brandon Robert Young replacing Sam Palladio’s Gunnar Scott for the duet. Of the tracks from Bowen’s album, my highlights were “Doors and Corridors”, dedicated to Bowen’s parents in the audience, “Aves’ Song” and “All The Beds I’ve Made”.

As I mentioned Bowen is a strong performer, able to shift with ease between upbeat and energetic, literally bounding down the theatre aisles, to songs that are more introspective and plaintive. Six years of playing a musician, recreating live performances, and indeed touring with the cast, have no doubt contributed to her ease and composure on stage. I’m not sure if it’s because I primarily know her as an actress, but at times I felt Bowen’s patter and stories between songs felt a little stilted, unnatural and perhaps a touch theatrical. But, she also seems to be a genuinely kooky, and very excited to be back touring in Australia, so perhaps it was just a mixture of nerves and excitement.

As a performer, she’s also not scared to share the spotlight; happily taking a step back and allowing her husband to perform “Hate It For You”, a song from his own recently completed full length record. Young, has his own connections to Nashville, indeed it was through the show that Bowen and Young met. He also has a ridiculously good voice, with a great range and tone, that surprised more than a few of the crowd. “Hate It For You”, was a haunting track, and certainly would have had plenty in the audience tracking down his full length. Timothy James Bowen, was also given another opportunity to take centre stage with “From Here On Out”, a song which he co-wrote, and was performed on the show by Deacon Clayborne (Charles Esten).

And it wasn’t just Clare Bowen and Scarlett O’Connor songs on show, Bowen slipped “Telescope”, a Hayden Panettiere/Juliette Barnes number, into the closing moments of the set, along with a fun medley of country hits “9 to 5”, “Folsom Prison Blues” and “The Gambler”, before closing the main set with the wonderfully odd and Vaudevillian drinking song “Who Hid The Whisky?”, which afforded each of the band a brief chance to solo. Another of the show’s stand-out highlights came during the encore, courtesy of a beautiful stripped back rendition of “A Life That’s Good”.

The show was not without its “flaws”, the first handful of songs in particular were let down a little by the sound mixing, with Bowen’s vocals getting lost amidst all the instrumentation. Which was a shame, because, as the remainder of the set proved, she really has a beautiful voice. But, all in all, with the help of her crack band of musicians, Bowen delivered an entertaining and engaging show filled with optimism and warmth. It might have been Nashville that got many of the audience in the door, but plenty of them left with Bowen’s album, and those of her supports, in hand. Nashville might have wrapped, but we’ll be seeing, and hearing, plenty more from Clare Bowen.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The reviewer attended the performance on September 27th at The Astor Theatre, Perth.

The tour continues tonight at the Wollongong Town Hall, before hitting Sydney (Oct 2nd), Brisbane (Oct 3rd) and Melbourne (Oct 5th). For more information and tickets visit HERE.

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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