1 December 2017
This was one of those 'wouldn't it be great if he played...' nights, and one where he pretty much did. There's something about established performers who are over 60 who just keep on playing - thinking not just of Paul Kelly, but also Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen in recent years in Auckland. Maybe it's that they're so on top of their game that a long set is effortless, maybe it's when you're at the tail end of a tour you want to go out on a high, or maybe it's just living life to the full.
Whatever the reason, Paul Kelly and the band delivered a completely absorbing concert from beginning to end, in a set that ran for two and half magical hours. He drew on his latest album, Life is Fine, along with albums from across the years - Post, Under the Sun, Gossip, So Much Water, Hidden Things, Wanted Man and Deeper Water to name a few. It was an evening of fresh indulgence and a host of memories springing to life, knitted together by a longstanding crew, including Peter Luscombe on drums, Greg Walker on guitar, and Linda and Vika Bull on backing and lead vocals, and in a generational shift, his nephew Dan Kelly, on guitar.
And there's always something special about a gig at the Civic, with its nightsky ceiling, and the faux opulence of a Raj-inspired era. It just needs a mosh pit for those of us that want to get moving.
Vika and Linda Bull were mesmerising to watch and to hear. All the grace, harmony, movement and rhythm of the Webb sisters when they supported Leonard Cohen, and the rich and powerful soul of Etta James and Billie Holiday. Vika singing Sweet Guy, a song written by Paul Kelly from the perspective of a woman in a violent relationship, carried enduring passion and anger that completely recasts the original recordings.
Songs fresh out of Life is Fine, his first number one album, received a warm reception, especially Finally Something Good, and Vika's savage bluesy lead on My Man's Got a Cold.
As for the songs that carried memories? Dumb Things and Before Too Long blaring across the hallway in the Williamson Ave student flat... Everything's Turning to White playing at the Power Station back in 89... humming Careless as I walked the Orongorongo track...From St Kilda and the decade long wait before we finally visited that one sweet promenade... Love Never Runs on Time and Song from the Sixteenth Floor filling the Kelburn flat after Kate and I moved in together, and crammed in at the Victoria University student union to hear Kelly play Wanted Man... singing To her Door on the deck at Whangapoua and discovering in Sydney that Silver Top are a Melbourne taxi company... hearing Deeper Water for the first time at a friend's flat in London, and today still determined to prove it's not telling our story.
In centuries gone by, Paul Kelly would have been a wandering troubador, singing stories of the people he came across. His songs evoke not just memories but also images, narratives and compassion, and he takes the listener on a journey through the eyes of others. Gravy, the final song ahead of the encore, remains captivating and searching, and epitomises his slice of time storytelling that remains unresolved but often hopeful.
And finally, a shoutout to The Eastern. We had one of those moments when you walk in to the tail end of the support act and wish you'd heard more of them. Next time I'll seek them out in their own right.