In 1952, Sam Phillips founded a record label that would ultimately define the sound of popular music.
Beginning as an outlet for up-and-coming African-American artists, Sun Records would later accumulate a roster the likes of which will never be seen again. Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and a fresh-faced young buck from Graceland were among their signings.
That’s quite a history; and it’s this history that Sun Rising: The Songs That Made Memphis successfully encapsulates within its hour-and-a-half timeslot.
The night kicks off as an ‘edutainment’ session of sorts. Preceding each song is a brief explanation of how Sun Records came to be.
While often entertaining – the tale of Jerry Lee Lewis shooting his bass player in the chest deserves special mention – an exceedingly rowdy crowd often mutes the audibility of the stories.
The vibe of the night swings into gear once the band opts to let the songs take care of narration. Standards such as ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, ‘Get Rhythm’ and ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On’ initiate a full-blown 1950s dance hall not seen since the ‘Enchantment Under The Sea’ sequence from Back To The Future (you know, the one where George has to knock out Biff otherwise Marty won’t be born).
Full kudos must go to the band for divvying up the vocal duties. Commencing proceedings is David Cosma who undertakes the ever-tricky baritone of Elvis.
Thankfully he opts for a subtle approach, thus avoiding the possibility of sounding like a hokey impersonator. Cosma also plays his steel string upside-down, a task which would’ve made relearning those barre chords an absolute bitch.
Equally impressive is lead guitarist Daniel Stain with his rendition of several Johnny Cash classics.
The chocolates, however, must go to Damon Smith. He not only takes on the vocals of Jerry Lee Lewis, he also embodies the artist’s energy and vigour. It’s no surprise the band decides to end the night with Smith ripping out Lewis’ ‘High School Confidential’ (cue jokes about Lewis marrying his 13-year-old cousin).
Perhaps the best news for the band – and prospective attendees – is that the show will roll on to the Melbourne Fringe Festival in October. Those yearning for a hearty taste of nostalgia and the odd jitterbug should take note.