Live Review: Paul Kelly & Merri Soul Sessions, Lucinda Williams, Kasey Chambers, Marlon Williams & The Yarrabenders

14 December 2015 | 3:46 pm | Craig English

"It made for a perfect evening under the stars."

Marlon Williams offered up his molasses-thick vocals, evoking the wandering melancholia more often heard in the mournful voice of Anohni. His tame disposition instantly commanded a thoughtful attentiveness as he sang, but a cheeky couple of bluegrass numbers with his band, The Yarrabenders, elevated the pace as they covered classics by the Stanley Brothers and performed a stunning cover of Portrait Of A Man by Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

Such fine musicianship was always going to be hard to follow up, and a few sound issues had Kasey Chambers' guitar punishingly high in the mix, despite her drummer's frantic efforts in motioning to the crew to have it turned down. She was completely overcome with giddy joy at having been asked to appear on the same bill as Paul Kelly and Lucinda Williams, which, while endearing, didn't much help her cause. New song Shackle And Chain found favour with the rambunctious crowd, but despite a few impressive moments peppered throughout, it was a surprisingly unexceptional set.

Strutting out with aplomb on a mission to tantalise, Lucinda Williams delved straight into Protection from last year's Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Winding the gears back just a fraction, Drunken Angel plodded along slowly, as does every song that plays like a good admission to flirting with alcoholism. Disturbingly literal songs about getting jizz in your hair and saucy misandrist stingers made up some of the stories she wore on her impressively well travelled sleeve. Over her 50-plus years as a musician, Williams has skilfully woven elements of gospel, blues and funk into her own brand of rock'n'roll, and she showcased the best of it all. After closing with a cover of Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World, the crowd was wound up and howling for an encore.

Before too long, Vika and Linda Bull, backed by Paul Kelly and the Merri Soul Sessions band, wove their voices throughout the shuffling melody of What You Want. Those sisters are as dynamic and outstanding a duo as you'll see or hear anywhere in the world, and shifting the focus away from their magnificent performances was a hard task. But when you're as well established an institution as Kelly is, the finest in music are at your beck and call, and together with Dan Sultan, Clairy Browne and Kira Puru, he'd fashioned an entourage of unquestionable talent. Kelly shared the spotlight rather equally with his fellow performers, and each took turns in delivering choice cuts from The Merri Soul Sessions album. Sultan's Don't Let A Good Thing Go and Bull sisters' Down On The Jetty were highlights, but even saying that much is a bit misleading; there wasn't a single miss in the entire set. Even when Kelly had a few technical mishaps to overcome before tugging on the heartstrings of the crowd with How To Make Gravy, the energy was unfaltering.

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Perhaps expecting To Her Door as the closer, the audience was instead treated to the beautiful a cappella odeMeet Me In The Middle Of The Air. There surely couldn’t have been any complaints about that, though; this particular assembly of genius gave their all and it made for a perfect evening under the stars.