Melbourne roots-rock combo Wagons have been making a name for themselves in their native Australia for a few years. Now they’re making a stab at North American stardom. Having been approached by Canadian label Six-Shooter, they even had a chance to tour across the Great White North in support of their latest long-player,‘Rumble, Shake and Tumble’.

One of their stops was Zaphod Beeblebrox, in the nation’s capital, with country-rockers Old Crowns in support. Old Crown leans heavily toward the “rock” side of the country-rock equation, and guitarist Sam Seguin likes a healthy dose of reverb, giving them a slightly surf-inflected sound.

They’ve already won plaudits for their self-titled and self-released debut album in 2010 and, after a bit of a local layoff while members roamed the country, seem ready to go full steam ahead once again.

As for Wagons, there was some question as to whether they’d get on stage at all - seconds before they were to begin all the lights in the block went out, plunging the club into Stygian darkness. Fortunately whatever the problem was, it was soon resolved and the quintet was up and they were firing on all cylinders.

Although they’re a very capable band, somewhat in the 1970s “outlaw country” mode, bandleader Henry Wagons elevates them into the exceptional with his extroverted patter and baritone croon.

With his headband, outsized glasses and matching sideburns he certainly looks like a refugee from the 1970s. As a former English teacher you have to wonder if he didn’t take a few pointers from the class clowns, joshing the crowd and his colleagues - each introduced as “my favourite member of the band” - between songs.

As for the songs, his croon gave many of them a soulful turn which bridged the various influences - funk and boogie also made an appearance in their musical makeup, as evidenced by the intro to ‘Downlow’, their second tune of the night, which goes from a bouncing intro to an acoustic guitar lick cribbed from Tom Petty in the first few bars.

They also covered ‘Never Been to Spain’, the syrupy hit most notably performed by Elvis, alongside tributes to Willie Nelson, and ‘I Blew It’, a paean to the ever-popular country subject of romantic failure.

As their set came to an end, they made a complete shift in tone, as drummer and bassist Si Francis and Mark Dawson busted out a very capable rap tune.

By the end of the show, the audience had both applauded a lot and laughed quite a bit, and Wagons are sure to attract a larger crowd next time they make it over from Down Under.

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