It’s pleasing that Paul Kelly is enjoying a career high point at the moment, recently scoring the first number one album of his career, selling out a national tour with ease, and being roundly treated as the national treasure he is.
After a decade or so of crafting dense, interesting concept records based on Shakespeare sonnets and funeral dirges, and hosting loose Stax-esque soul sessions with a revolving- yet-regular cast of collaborators, PK this year returned to the tighty-crafted FM-friendly songs that broke him in the ’80s: bright upbeat songs, ballads that belong around campfires, songs for the days when you can actually see the heat, smell the road melting. Australian songs.
“It’s been coming for a while,” he told The BRAG earlier this year. “I’ve wanted to put out a rock’n’roll record; a band record. An upbeat record. The kind of record that EMI have wanted me to put out for about five years now.” He laughs. “They’ve been going, ‘When are you going to do a normal record?’ And I’ve been saying, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’”
EMI haven’t been the only ones waiting for a ‘normal’ Paul Kelly record. The enthusiastic uptake across the country suggests that many have been waiting for a normal Paul Kelly album, even if this was only evident once we were presented with one. “This feels familiar”, we think.
Paul Kelly opened his show last night at the Opera House forecourt with three straight songs from Life Is Fine, and they already seem to have nestled snugly into his set alongside proven classics such as ‘Before Too Long’ and ‘To Her Door’: sonically, thematically.
Last night’s Opera House show was also televised live on ABC, which may be why there was such a liberal, crowd-pleasing sprinkling of hits throughout, or perhaps it’s just because Paul Kelly has so many hits. And because Paul Kelly is a crowd-pleaser, in the way all good storytellers are.
“Gravy comes to those who wait”, he told the crowd at one point, after excited yells for his Christmas classic. And it did.
Vika and Linda Bull have been a mainstay of Paul’s creative circle for the past 25 years — a major part of his live show and recorded work — and help give this show a familial feel; as does his nephew Dan Kelly tackling the legendary lead breaks on hits written in his infancy.
“There’s the beautiful sound of the ferry”, Kelly joked as one bleated during a quiet moment. He went on to describe it as a trade-off when playing on the harbour, but it blended beautifully with Paul Kelly’s songs. It didn’t feel like a trade-off. Kelly is from Melbourne, sure, but he belongs in front of the Opera House, with thunderclouds threatening to coat the audience with rain as he sings about the elements.
As Kelly noted throughout the show, he has a lot of rain and water songs, which he hoped wasn’t a bad omen. It seemed fitting: these songs being performed in front of the Opera House, nature threatening to sweep in and disrupt us at any moment…