26 May 2018
There's something a bit intimidating about a gig at the Auckland Town Hal, when the backdrop is a pipe organ that appears ready to spring into life and override whatever is happening on the stage. It certainly adds a dramatic backdrop to what was a special night.
Julia Deans opens, bringing to the fore her commanding voice, and performing songs that have an underlying theme of just sort your shit out, will you? One is about all the times when we're a bit of a dick, and another is about blaming crystals, gods or whatever, instead of the choices we ourselves make. Introducing a song from her album 'We light fire', she says 'we spend a lot of energy keeping people at bay, whereas if we embraced each other and our differences, we could achieve some fucking awesome stuff'. The title track, performed solo to end the set, is a standout and is the perfect warmup to Marlon Williams. Williams himself warmly acknowledges Deans, saying that 'if at 15 I'd have known that I would be performing with Julia Deans at age 27 I'd have been shaking in my tiny booties.'
When I saw Justin Townes Earle back in October (I'd only just broken into double figures at #11), he told us to treasure Marlon Williams, saying 'he is the shit.' And he was right. Williams brings his rich country tenor to his music, with the Yarra Benders provide a superb broken-hearted bluesy backing.
Williams delivers beautiful yet raw songs, both of his own creation, as well as through collaboration with others including Aldous Harding and Delaney Davidson. He also ably reinterprets the work of others - tonight's show included covers of songs by Yoko Ono and Barry Gibb - in ways that are both true to himself and the original performers.
It's a show where the audience is invited to not only savour his artistry, but also to share his own heartbreak. For me, there's a voyeuristic sense about it. You know that his latest album, 'Make Way For Love', is about his relationship with Aldous, as was hers about him. When you're from the FFS school of let people live their lives, it's for me a little conflicting to be happily immersed in his reflections of the relationship. To be fair, there's a lot going on in these compositions; it's not the same as the endless diary of Taylor Swift's relationships. Williams introduces the song 'Can I Call You?' as a song of malintent. It's an ugly song, move on move on, he says afterwards. Other songs like 'I'm Lost Without You', and 'Nobody Gets What they Want Anymore' (written with Aldous) continue the theme - heartfelt yet never over the top.
He's joined by the Yarra Benders, a band full of multi-instrumentalists that could hold a crowd in their own right. In a couple of nice touches, Williams leaves the stage for the band to deliver extended instrumental sessions that brought their talents to the fore.
Tonight was the 67th of a 67-tour show, and concludes with hugs all round as this particular journey comes to an end. And as shows go, this was a cracker.
With thanks to Mirla and Kate for their photos from the night, which were a lot better than my phone was able to come up with.