Paul Kelly / Be Good Tanyas- Forum Theatre (Melbourne, Australia)
Winter is a relative concept for Australians. Call us wimps, compared to northern hemisphere music fans, but don’t say it to the 2000-odd Paul Kelly fans who waited in the cold and rain to see our unofficial national hero of song.
It would take more than bad weather to sabotage a show by Kelly and his ever-roadworthy band (Spencer P Jones, guitar; Bruce Haymes, keyboards; Steve Hadley, bass and Pete Luscombe, drums). There was something missing, though — maybe the setlist was a tad uninspired, or maybe it was the flatness that comes after relentless overseas touring, or maybe the wintry doses of flu made everyone a little miserable. Still, for Kelly’s faithful fans, these were only minor grumblings.
Opener Dan Kelly, Paul’s nephew, gave credence to the theory that music is a bloodline gift. He played solo, with nothing but distortion pedals and sweet falsetto vocals to carry his fractious songs of lovelorn inner-city dramas and counter-meal waitresses, impressing the attentive early-arrivals as the audience and expectations began to build.
Some of the anticipation was reserved for the Be Good Tanyas, if only on the strength of Paul Kelly’s personal invitation to join his national tour. Darlings on the Canadian festival circuit, the Be Good Tanyas’ rootsy debut Blue Horse has been well-received in Australia. And when the three women — Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein — opened their mouths to sing, the entire theater was silenced in a moment.
Which was quite a feat in itself, but it didn’t hold. The trio, with acoustic and electric slide guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and low-key accompaniment from a drummer and walk-on double bassist, somehow failed to fire. Perhaps they’d reckoned on toning down their old-timey and Americana influences for their Down Under audiences, or were keeping it sweet in daughterly-like respect for their host. Either way, a bit of sassiness or attitude would surely not have gone astray, for they came across as bland — more like the Corrs than the Gillian Welch comparisons bestowed upon them by the Australian music press. Their slow-paced set enlivened considerably toward the end with a high-spirited version of “Light Enough To Travel” by accordion-wielding Vancouver songwriter Geoff Berner.
The warmth of recognition when Kelly walked onstage to the strains of “Be My Baby” was undeniable, and his band quickly fell into some solid grooves. There were gentle acoustic-based moments, pop jangles, fat reggae and dub moves, and occasional rock ‘n’ roll workouts.
The selections from Kelly’s latest album, Nothing But A Dream, sounded exceptionally good, particularly “I Close My Eyes And Think Of You” and “Midnight Rain”. The classics were all there, too, including “When I First Met Your Ma”, “Love Never Runs On Time”, “Everything’s Turning To White”, “Careless”, “Deeper Water”, “Sweet Guy”, and “How To Make Gravy”.
All that was before the encores, which paid off handsomely with guest appearances by Michael Barclay of legendary Aussie pub band Weddings, Parties, Anything and R&B songstress Renee Geyer, a longtime Kelly collaborator. “I Can’t Believe We Were Married” and “Before Too Long” were terrific; Kelly and band stepped back from the spotlight to give Geyer her head on “Difficult Woman” and “You Broke A Beautiful Thing”, then brought down the best moment of the night with a lean yet gutsy rendition of “Look So Fine, Feel So Low” and a wistful acoustic finale, “I Wasted Time”, in three-piece format, just double bass, hushed drums and, of course, Kelly’s voice: familiar, regretful, and eminently real.