Live Review: A State Of Grace

25 September 2015 | 5:05 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

Wainwright even requires a lyric sheet for Grace!

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Milling around the venue's foyer, it's relatively easy to separate which Buckley — Jeff or his father Tim — those assembled are primarily here to see. There's a collective sense we all wish to indulge in melancholy as we anticipate this celebration of two late artists who left this earth way too soon when they, undoubtedly, had many more potential masterpieces in the tank to elevate our CD collections.  

Once we take our seats, some muffled audio of what sounds like a message left on an answer phone kicks off this evening; we sadly can't decipher the words although suspect it to be poignant material. Our very own Steve Kilbey opens with the elder Buckley's Happy Sad and Gary Lucas (long-time Jeff Buckley collaborator and tonight's musical director) smiles approvingly his way. Lucas's band, Gods And Monsters, are exceptional from the very first note. Martha Wainwright enters and immediately confesses she hasn't memorised the lyrics. She doesn't just refer to the sheets on the music stand, either; she's almost glued to them and barely faces her audience. Lucas tells us it's almost 20 years since Jeff Buckley last graced our shores (and those of us not present at his Palais Theatre show die a little inside). He also tells us the original titles of the pair's two most successful collaborations (before Buckley altered them): And You Will became Mojo Pin and Rise Up To Be, Grace. Before singing Mojo Pin, Wainwright feels the need to point out these songs are difficult to sing. At one point during this treasured number Lucas even has to prompt her and Wainwright is glaringly underprepared. You can feel an atmosphere of annoyance throughout the crowd. The moment Camille O'Sullivan steps out on stage to deliver her first note, we breathe a sigh of relief. She brings the appropriate amount of passion to her allotted Buckley songs — her Lilac Wine, for which she's expertly accompanied by pianist Joe Hendel, positions tears on eyeballs — and her star shines as brightly as those spangly silver ankle boots. O'Sullivan is rewarded by roars from the up-to-this-point reserved crowd.

The second half of A State Of Grace opens with footage of Tim Buckley himself (on a large screen) performing Song To A Siren live on the final episode of The Monkees TV show (1968) and a superfan in the row behind sings along (tunefully, thank god) with every nuance. Kilbey then graces the stage for an impressively rousing Pleasant Street. A solo Willy Mason accompanies himself on guitar for a touching rendition of Once I Was. And then enter Wainwright, who's like the naughty performing arts student with enviable talent who hasn't done her homework; she asks Hendel to play Lover, You Should've Come Over's intro so she can find the correct key; when she finds her feet, it's glorious, but her performance lacks connection given she's addressing a piece of paper on a music stand. Casper Clausen joins her on stage and they duet on Tim's The River, which is haunting to hear given how his son passed. Mason captivates while performing Jeff's Satisfied Mind, which contains some comforting lyrics: "But one thing's for certain, when it comes my time... I will leave this old world with a satisfied mind." O'Sullivan returns to perform Tim's Sefronia - The King's Chain with Lucas, who tells us this is the song's second part and also the very first song he ever played with Jeff. A strangled-sounding descending loop is triggered and it's a very obtuse arrangement, but one we're delighted to experience live. It's a clear demonstration of Jeff's unparalleled vocal range when both O'Sullivan and Clausen are required to cover The Last Goodbye and Gods And Monsters demonstrate extraordinary virtuosity here. Wainwright even requires a lyric sheet for Grace! There's always something special about hearing the original musician performing material and Lucas's trademark guitar work is intricate, his unassuming style mesmerising.

An encore sees O'Sullivan return for Song To The Siren, with the added pressure of needing to measure up to the original version we just witnessed coming out of intermission. It's clearly this evening's standout vocal performance and features minimal instrumentation. She reaches up and catches some air particles to close ("...Waiting to hold you") and the stillness reflects our awe. The entire ensemble returns to the stage for Hallelujah (admirably led by Somali-Canadian singer Cold Specks), but we wish the order of these last two songs were reversed in order to savour the reverent atmosphere created by O'Sullivan.  

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