One of the great things about seeing a concert at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre is that you know the acts will take to the stage exactly on schedule, and if you take too long finishing your drinks or get caught on the toilet and miss the warning buzzer, it’s tough luck, Jack. This almost happens to me, as I find myself with two untouched beers as the ‘please take your seats’ announcement permeates my relaxed mood and sends me into a mild panic consisting of desperate chugging and worried glances towards the general direction of door 8. Of course I could have left the brews behind, but music and drinks go so well together, don’t you agree? Consider those beers slammed.
It’s great to see the majority of tonight’s audience have also found their way to their seats early enough for support act Urthboy. The Blue Mountains singer is joined on-stage by fellow The Herd member Jane Tyrrell, and they run through an outstanding high-energy set of hip-hop songs with a thread of socially-conscious messages running through the middle. An early highlight is ‘Letters From Jamshed’; a touching and inspiring song based upon the letters received from an Afghani refugee friend, who eventually found his happy ending as he was accepted as an Australian citizen, even though afterwards he “went on to study accounting”. Urthboy’s music is motivational and reflective in equal amounts, as he tells the audience “You have won just as many Tour de Frances as Lance Armstrong – remember that,” before introducing his song ‘The Big Sleep’ as being about Natalie Wood; the pensioner whose body lay undiscovered in her Surry Hills home for eight years.
After a short interval (lesson learned, bar avoided) Paul Kelly steps onto the stage with his young band, looking dapper in a light grey suit and reflecting the spotlights off his shiny head, as the audience show their enthusiastic appreciation. Firstly, he announces he will be playing his new album Spring and Fall straight through, which will “only take about forty minutes, don’t worry”. It’s a cracker of an album, in the form of a ‘song cycle,’ as Kelly informs us, with each song depicting an event that happens in relation to all the other songs and events. A definite highlight is fourth track ‘Gonna Be Good’, which sees drummer Bree van Reyk (who is bloody exceptional all night) at one point playing tambourine, drums, and singing at the same time. Dan Kelly is similarly impressive on guitar and vocals throughout the show.
After Spring and Fall, Kelly is free to play the hits, starting with ‘Bradman’, ‘When I First Met Your Ma’, and ‘Forty Miles to Saturday Night’, with plenty of banter and story-telling in between. There’s a definite feeling of being in the presence of an Australian legend at this point, and a pretty special atmosphere is apparent in the concert hall, as hundreds of eyes and ears and totally transfixed by what’s happening in front of them. ‘Our Sunshine’ – Kelly’s Ned Kelly tribute – follows, and van Reyk breaks out the spoons on a couple of tracks after ‘The Foggy Fields of France’. The final song is the beautiful ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ and a mass sing-along breaks out for the chorus. It’s almost enough to bring a lump to the throat of this hardened gig-goer.
Anyone who thought it would end there is gravely mistaken, as Kelly’s skills are demanded for three – yes three – well-deserved encores, which includes an a-cappella vocal track with his four band members, and an appearance from Urthboy and Jane Tyrrell once more. Several bows, waves, thank-yous later and it’s all over, two and half hours after it began.
He’s been called one of the best song-writers around, a master storyteller, and a national treasure, and Paul Kelly deserves all of these titles. What a performance we just witnessed.