Live Review: Ron Sexsmith

23 November 2015 | 11:23 am | Steve Bell

"This must be what it’s like when a Canadian watches Paul Kelly."

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The thick spring heat lays down over Mullum Festival like a blanket — making things somehow even more laidback and lethargic than usual — but inside the gorgeous old Civic Hall, the gathering’s epicentre, it’s verging on oppressive. No one’s complaining, mind you; the rows of impromptu seats are all full and it’s standing-room-only at the back and on the sides, everyone eager to score a good vantage point from where to spy Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, by far the biggest name performing on this, the opening night.

Soon enough, Sexsmith ushers his five-piece band onto stage and after the applause dies away they open with Sun’s Coming Out, the song perfectly languid for the surrounds and betraying the group’s exquisite harmonies from the get-go. They move through All In Good Time before the affable Sexsmith offers, “This one was covered by Michael Buble as well of all people, but this is the right way to play it,” and moves through the gorgeous Whatever It Takes.

Every song is like a perfectly formed, self-contained narrative and the band is world-class, and they hark back to the singer’s early days with the gently blossoming There’s A Rhythm. There’s steam rising from the dapper musicians but they too look like they’re having a blast — no doubt enjoying the rural, old school environs and the love emanating from the enraptured crowd — and they run through Strawberry Blonde before tackling a couple of newer tracks, Saint Bernard and Before The Light Is Gone, from the most recent album Carousel One. He throws in Former Glory, all mellow and optimistic, then offers up the plainly beautiful Gold In Them Hills, his voice so familiar and comforting. Sexsmith then quips, “I’m going to play a song that was far too complex for the band to learn,” and tackles the simple and heartfelt Sneak Out The Back Door on his lonesome, and gets halfway through Believe It When I See It in the same manner before the band stride back onto the stage and the song blossoms into life.

Get In Line is subtly jaunty, before Sexsmith beams like a Cheshire Cat as he recounts, “This song was covered most recently by Emmylou Harris, which did wonders for my self-esteem… so we put it back in the set-list,” and they offer a gorgeous rendition of Hard Bargain. Every song is so strong and you know he’s got an endless string of them at his disposal — this must be what it’s like when a Canadian watches Paul Kelly (not sacrilegious) — and he keeps going with the cover anecdotes, this time offering, “A lot of people think that this is a Leslie Feist song because she did a lovely version, but I wrote it,” before delivering a stellar take on Secret Heart. There’s a couple more new tracks thrown into the mix to round out the proceedings in the form of the Beatles-y Getaway Car and the emotive Sure As The Sky and then it’s over, the clearly heat-sapped musicians and their leader leaving the fray to a heroes’ reception, the band no doubt turning their minds to the rest of the tour while the punters' attention focuses on the rest of the great festival that’s awaiting them (and probably a cool drink as well). An auspicious beginning.

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