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Review: Paul Kelly with Gang of Youths, Meg Mac and Gretta Ray, Melbourne, 16 December 2017

Grown men dancing in double pluggers.

There was something magical about the afternoon as the crowds made their way through Melbourne’s Kings Domain to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Saturday. Thousands of punters, young and old, were brought together by the majesty of Australia’s great poet, Paul Kelly. You could not have picked a more fittingly beautiful venue for this special event. December 25 was still a week away but for those making the pilgrimage, it felt as if Christmas had come early.

Opening the Australian music extravaganza, Triple J Unearthed up-and-comer Gretta Ray got the afternoon off to a beautiful folk-rock start. Meg Mac followed, and on a huge stage that could make any singer seem diminutive, Mac let her voice do the work and showed she has the big voice for the big stage.

Gang of Youths were next and frontman Dave Le’aupepe gave a passionate performance, getting right up into the grassy hill of the bowl during ‘Magnolia’. Despite the powerful ‘one more song’ chant that echoed around the bowl, Gang of Youths – who command the title of Australia’s biggest rock act right now – had the class to respectfully resist. They knew something bigger than an encore was coming.

It’s hard to describe in words the quality of Kelly’s well-oiled performance, which has been honed over 23 studio albums. You could not fault a moment of the legend’s performance. Acoustic solos of the classics sat comfortably next to full band performances of tracks from the latest album Life is Fine. This was Australian music performance at its peak. The perfect soundtrack to reach into an ice-cold esky while the sun sets over a sizzling barbecue, there’s cricket on the TV in the background and the Hills Hoist swings in the breeze…you get the picture.

Kelly’s nephew Dan Kelly joined him for a special duo performance of ‘From St Kilda to Kings Cross’. The show was full of beautiful tributes to those who have influenced and shaped Kelly’s music, in particular the late Steve Connolly who was a long-time member of Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls/Messengers with a full band performance of ‘Before Too Long’.

As much as this was a celebration of Kelly’s music, many punters left the show remembering the names of two sisters who stole the show. Vika and Linda Bull feature on a number of tracks from Life is Fine and if you have seen Kelly live in the past then you would probably be familiar with the show-stopping, soul power of Vika and Linda. ‘My Man’s Got a Cold’ was the spine-tingling moment of the night from Vika on lead vocals and Linda on the “bucket of clank” (yes, the humble bucket was the lead percussion instrument).

Kelly showed his class and genuine nice guy attitude, ensuring the crowd acknowledged every member of the crew who supported the event.

‘I Smell Trouble’ was a highlight featuring Paul Kelly on the keys.

Sure, Kelly may have teased the crowd with three encore stage departures and returns. But we didn’t care. It’s Paul Kelly on a Saturday night. He could have done 25 encores and the crowd would have lapped up every moment. Such was the beauty of this occasion that nobody wanted the night to end. This was a show that made grown men in double plugger thongs dance wildly in the aisles of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

It was fitting that as the night came to a close, from the top of the hill the crowd roared into ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. And in the most Paul Kelly thing that could have happened, Paul Kelly said, “Yeah, alright,” and finished the night with his finest piece of storytelling.

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