The Man In Black: The Johnny Cash Story at the Sydney Opera House

The Johnny Cash biopic of a few years ago, I Walk The Line, showed that there’s great appetite for the man, his music, and his story. The Man In Black, which is finishing a run of several weeks at the Opera House and has played elsewhere in Australia, tells the same story in a live show. I saw it with a number of friends last night.

It was not a play, nor a musical. The performers read through some text about Cash’s life, from boyhood to death, and then launched into songs. They weren’t in character except when they sang, so it wasn’t cheesy. It was a two-hour show, with intermission, and they covered a lot of songs.

Johnny was played by Tex Perkins, who’s been a frontman of a few bands here, including the Beasts of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea. His rich, deep baritone – or, at least, his ability to sing in one – makes him sound just right when he does Cash’s songs. But he hasn’t stopped there; he wears black, strides the stage, approaches the mic, and wears his guitar high and to the side, just like Johnny. His backing band, The Tennessee Four, were able to lay down that rolling train sound, and also to rock it up a bit. Rachael Tidd did the June Carter bits, and told much of the story as well.

It was a light-hearted celebration, but they were very respectful of the music. The songs sounded note-perfect to me. They played a lot of less-famous songs; I laughed out loud (yes, I lol’d) to hear “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog”. I shivered when they did an excellent version of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” But the better-known songs were spot-on too: “Ring Of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Walk The Line”, and so on. They also did several of Johnny’s cover songs: T.J. Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues”, Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire”, and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”.

It was a great singalong, a warm basking in music that – as Perkins said last night – feels like it’s always been there.