Reviewed on Tuesday August 13
It takes Tim Levinson 35 minutes to confront what he calls the elephant in the room. “I’m a rapper,” he grins, “at a Paul Kelly gig.” By this point, Urthboy has won some new fans – if not for Aussie hip hop as a whole, at least for his own arresting style of storytelling. It’s perhaps no clearer than on ‘Letters From Jamshed’, the inspiring account of a pen pal exchange with an asylum seeker locked up in Nauru. Tonight’s show takes place in intimidating surrounds for Urthboy, that’s of no doubt – but the rapper is not so much restrained here as thoughtful; not so much skating over thin ice as dancing upon it with glee.
They may draw from different songbooks, but Urthboy and tonight’s headliner are artists borne ultimately of the same tradition. And coming to a Paul Kelly show always feels like coming home, such is the warmness of his embrace.
Kelly and his band open with a straight run-through of Spring And Fall, the heartwrencher of an album released last year. It’s a delicate record – the five performers on stage seem at times anxious not to make any sudden movements, as if they’re carrying precious china – but it features some of the bard’s best-ever lyrics: ‘Someone New’, ‘Time And Tide’, ‘Little Aches And Pains’. Kelly exits Spring And Fall with a trip back to ‘Bradman’, performed here as a lament over the Australian cricket team’s current predicaments. There on in, it’s a greatest hits set, augmented with generous inclusions from the country and bluegrass sides of Kelly’s vast catalogue – the multi-talented percussionist Bree van Reyk even has a go at playing the spoons.
The City Recital Hall is a setting for theatre, and Kelly plays along (as Urthboy did before him) – but, surprisingly, one of the most enthused reactions tonight comes with ‘Sweet Guy’. It seems the politely seated, attentive (and, frankly, older) audience were waiting for a moment to let their restraint go after all. Urthboy and his collaborator Jane Tyrrell each take a verse on ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, then the Kelly gang gather around a single microphone to do ‘Song From The Sixteenth Floor’. The stunningly effective trick is repeated for ‘Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air’, and Kelly need say no more. Coming to a Paul Kelly show feels like coming home, and home for Kelly has always been the one sunburnt land lucky enough to call him ours.
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