Paul Kelly has made a habit of passing through Canberra recently. In November he performed at the Canberra International Film Festival, and in February he joined Neil Finn to please ears at the Royal Theatre. This time he was here to showcase his latest album, Spring and Fall.
The show kicked off with support act Urthboy, a founding member of the Aussie hip-hop group The Herd, and his band. Towards the end of his short set he had a chat with the audience and accepted that a hip-hop artist supporting Paul Kelly at a theatre was probably not what they were expecting. This was made worse by the average age of the crowd being well over fifty. However, after a little charming the audience warmed to him, and the set finished strongly.
After a short break Kelly walked onstage and explained that Spring and Fall was going to be played in full and in order first, followed by snippets from his vast back catalogue. The single, and without doubt one of the strongest songs on the album, “New Found Year,” came first. The high quality of sound that Llewellyn Hall is capable of became evident immediately. The lush acoustic sound of the album and the warmth of Kelly’s mid-range voice resonated throughout the performance of the album, which finished strongly, as it does on the CD, with “None of Your Business Now” – that one particularly popular with the crowd.
If Spring and Fall has one fault it is that it lacks dynamics; that is to say, its songs are all acoustic and relatively similar in tempo. Fortunately for Kelly his back catalogue has dynamics galore. The next hour and forty-five minutes was magic. All the usual hits were thumped out, but rarities were just as appreciated by a crowd that was surrendering more and more to the music the longer the night went on. The set finished with Urthboy and his band joining in on “From Little Things Big Things Grow”. By the first encore the crowd had begun singing along. By the second encore everyone was standing and cheering. Each ended with all five members of the band surrounding a communal microphone and singing 5-part harmony in a gospel fashion. It was wonderful.
It must be said that the quality of musicianship displayed by Kelly’s band was amazing. Dan Kelly’s dexterity on guitar makes it easy to understand why he has been Kelly’s right-hand man for over a decade (he’s also his nephew). ANU School of Music graduate Bree van Reyk’s drumming was in a groove so deep it was a trench, on “Careless”. Zoe Hauptmann, another ANU School of Music graduate, was flawless on the upright bass throughout Spring and Fall, and added funk to a few bass lines later on in the evening. ‘J’ Walker, another Canberran, displayed great versatility jumping from guitar to keyboards all night.
If the School of Music is going to regain some of the reputation (and money) it has been losing in recent times, gigs like this might well be the way to do it. There is no greater marketing tool for the School of Music than the success of alumni, especially when they return as part of the band an Australian music icon is carrying around with him.