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Review: Greg Phillips
Photos: Jason Rosewarne

“Are there any Warren Zevon fans in the audience?” Henry Wagons enthusiastically asks his first night crowd as he kicks into one of the acclaimed singer, songwriter’s most celebrated songs, ‘Lawyers Guns and Money’. “We’re gunna have fun tonight,” he tells us and the man is as good as his word. It’s preview/premiere night for Henry Wagons new stage show ‘Zevon – Accidentally Like A Martyr’, a two act homage to the troubled American rock star and story teller Warren Zevon. It’s a loosely structured journey through the life and songs of Warren Zevon, focussing more on the music than the myth.

There was much to love about Warren Zevon, certainly his witty, intelligent and often catchy songs, aided by his dry sense of humour. Unfortunately, there was also much to loathe, depending on which part of his career you came across the guy. Many remember him as the alcoholic and womanising demon, as self-expressed in his own song Dirty Life And Times. “It’s hard to find a girl with a heart of gold, When you’re living in a four-letter world,” he wrote of himself on his final album The Wind, a record he made while dying from inoperable lung cancer.

Rather than offer a chronologically accurate fact-fest, Wagons gives us a fan’s view of the world of Warren Zevon, a refreshing and entertaining trip through the Zevon back catalogue. It’s Wagons who is the ‘excitable boy’ and his enthusiasm for the material is infectious.

Henry knows how to work a crowd and toils hard to make it look effortless. Whatever first-night hjinx the theatre gremlins threw at him, be it faulty microphone and amp or mobile phone rings and late comers, he had a comeback and used the moment to his advantage. Wagons is the ‘package’ as they say in theatre-speak, a singer, orator, guitarist, and keyboard player but above all he’s an entertainer, a quick witted, confident, dynamic and likeable stage presence. Armed with a talented band, who reproduce the Zevon sound faithfully, it was easy to lose yourself in the sometimes seedy LA life of one of rock’n’ roll’s most colourful characters.

Musical director and keyboard player Lachlan Bryan is the perfect side guy to Wagons’ shtick, while at the same time providing sympathetic musical accompaniment. Both Bryan and drummer Holly E Thomas take lead on ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’ and ‘Carmelita’, two Zevon tracks made famous by Linda Ronstadt. Guitarist Michael Hubbard is in the Zevon-zone too, delivering searing leads licks and solid rhythm when required. Meanwhile in the background, Damian Cafarella is eternally giving us sublime and tastefully chosen bass notes.

Zevon – Accidentally Like A Martyr is informal, intimate, lawless and most of all fun. A second half trivia quiz, ending with Wagons serenading and waltzing with quiz winner China, a beefy, bald ex-navy guy was a show highlight. For Zevon fans, all the ‘hits’ are there including a rousing, crowd participating version of the iconic ‘Werewolves of London’ at the end. For those unfamiliar with the Zevon story, it shouldn’t deter you from considering a ticket either. At it’s core, it’s high-spirited rock ’n’ roll show, one that at times exposes Zevon’s darker side but Wagons never let’s that get in the way of a laugh and good time. Zevon – Accidentally Like A Martyr is currently playing a limited run at the Athenaeum Theatre 2 in Melbourne Oct 17-19 and Oct 23-26


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