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Live Review: Morgan Evans, James Johnston @ The Palais Theatre, Melbourne

16 September 2023 | 9:08 am | Monique La Terra

By the time Morgan Evans got to his commercial hit, 'Day Drunk', the Thursday night crowd were caught up in a Friday night feeling.

Morgan Evans

Morgan Evans (Source: Supplied)

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Blending Nashville’s southern charm with an unmistakably down-to-earth Aussie spirit, Morgan Evans delighted the crowd on night one of his two-night stop at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre. 

Spanning fourteen shows across Australia and New Zealand, with multiple sold-out dates, Evans's Life Upside Down tour comes in the wake of his recent attendance-breaking appearance at Queensland’s Gympie Music Muster

But this achievement is just the latest in a career that began when Evans won the 2007 Road to Tamworth competition. Two years later, he supported none other than Taylor Swift on her inaugural 2009 Australian tour. By 2019, Evans had two tracks certified platinum and won the ARIA for Best Country Album for his second studio album, Things That We Drink To. 

The show opened with 2x Golden Guitar winner James Johnston. A veteran of shows like Australian Idol and The X Factor, Johnston was received by the audience with a reaction usually reserved for the headliner. He kicked off the night with his 2021 debut single, Raised Like That, which became the fastest debut single by an Australian country artist to gain one million streams.

Johnston cruised through songs celebrating small-town country life with Got it Good, My People, and his new single We Grew Up On – the whole time sounding remarkably crisp and polished. He then dedicated a new track, Seeing You Soon, to his wife and sons, who were watching in the audience and proceeded to hold his phone up to the microphone for an exclusive listen to the bridge his son recorded for the song. 

At the end of his set, Johnston strung together a country arrangement of crowd pleasers, including Daryl Braithwaite’s version of The Horses, I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston, Hey Baby by DJ Ötzi, and Barbie Girl by Aqua

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After his final bow, Johnston invited fans into the foyer for a meet and greet – an offer many excitedly took him up on. 

Following the intermission, a medley of hits by John Williamson, Keith Urban, and Garth Brooks played over the speakers before Morgan Evans and his band took the stage in a burst of lights so blinding, they should have come with a photosensitivity warning.

Barefoot and shaggy-haired, with a beaming, kilowatt smile, Evans dove straight into the feel-good song Young Again, setting the celebratory mood for the night. As expected, smash hit Kiss Somebody delighted the audience, as did Love is Real, which showed off Morgan’s goofy side as he led the crowd in a sing-along. 

The most poignant moment of the evening came when Evans sat down at the piano and performed Over For You. Written as his divorce from American country singer Kelsea Ballerini was finalised, the heart-wrenching song revealed the singer’s vulnerable side. In contrast, the pointed lyrics in his new song What Does That Say About You resonated with the audience.

Accompanied on stage by his old schoolmate and support act, James Johnston, Evans and his band sat on stools and jammed out to All Right Here, featuring masterful harmonies, a bluesy solo on a resonator guitar, and a spirited performance from Johnston on the harmonica.  

While currently based in Nashville, the Newcastle local exhibited his Australian pride with a bewitching instrumental performance of Waltzing Matilda, the uplifting chorus from You’re The Voice, and later an acoustic performance of I Still Call Australia Hom,e which, despite the connotations with Qantas, is still beloved by audiences. 

Back at the piano, Evans dedicated his song Things That We Drink To to his late manager, Rob Potts, who died tragically in 2017 in a motorcycle accident. The crowd sparkled in a glow of phone lights as Evans effortlessly blended Coldplay’s Fix You into the track.  

Shifting gears once more, Hey Little Mama had the whole crowd on their feet, and by the time Evans got to his commercial hit, Day Drunk, the Thursday night crowd were caught up in a Friday night feeling.

Closing the show with the optimistic On My Own Again, Evans heralds a new chapter in his life and, if the successes of the previous were anything to go by, then country music fans should prepare themselves, as it seems the best is yet to come.