Paul Kelly

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Review Date September 23-24, 2011

Review By Eric Thom

Location The Dakota Tavern, Canada

Any chance to see brilliant singer-songwriter Paul Kelly live is an opportunity not to be missed. This occasion, as it turned out, presented two back-to-back, surprisingly intimate evenings. With the release of his Mongrel Memoir, How To Make Gravy and a companion 8-CD live release of the same name, Kelly-who, in Australia, sits on the other side of God-has amassed a rich catalogue over his 37+ years career. Appearing to bear the mysticism of an entire country on his shoulders, Kelly-unwittingly serving as his country’s ambassador-has become Australia’s most beloved export. Stripping his songs back to their original forms, Kelly and talented cousin, Dan, have been touring the novel concept of starting with songs beginning with A and, over two to four nights, ending with songs beginning with Z. If it sounds silly, it’s not-working surprisingly well (not unlike a game show, guessing what he’ll choose next …) while offering fans true insights into his selections. The combination of Paul’s vocals, acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica and Dan’s outlandish ability to “orchestrate’ each composition with his 6-stringed skills, mandolin, ukulele, harmonies and a sea of effects results in delivering more than your basic night of acoustic flashbacks. Indeed, many of the songs are reinvented (many were originally full-blown band numbers). Hard to believe that Kelly has such power-his tiny frame and polite, soft-spoken demeanour barely lends itself to someone who sits atop a stockpile of critical praise and countless awards. He writes like some painters paint, his gift of prose encompassing an acute sense of time and place: detailing love and marriage, political causes, tragedies, troubled lives and everyman’s reality. The two-man show makes it easier to champion the songs themselves-the words and the melodies becoming the stars of the show. From Anastasia to Gossip’s Leaps and Bounds, Kelly’s first night was the quieter of the two, as Kelly’s living room approach to his fans took a little getting used to, somehow. Songs like I Wasted Time, How to Make Gravy and the disturbing God Told Me To proved highlights, with Dan Kelly kicking in with searing solos along the way. Rockers like I Keep on Coming Back For More, where both players switched to electric, were suitably adrenaline-pumped. On the second night, both fans and artists felt part of an exclusive club-with more genuine banter and a more relaxed feel, overall. From the beautiful Meet You In the Middle of the Air, inspired by Psalm 23 and sung a capella to Oldest Story in the Book provided nice set-ups to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and crowd-pleasers like Sydney From a 747 and To Her Door showcased exceptional guitar from both players. Kelly’s They Thought I was Asleep was especially powerful, sung solo, accompanying himself on harp. Dan provided Paul with an animated break with his own Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam-hamming it up despite the fact it’s the pop centerpiece of his DREAM album. Returning with the stunning love story between father and son, When I First Met Your Ma, nicely offset by the hilarious Winter Coat. The delicate Zoe closed the set but not before Paul returned, alone, for You Can’t Take It With You while Dan came back for a reggae-fied version of You’re So Fine, followed by Summer Rain and Kelly’s penultimate tune, From Little Things Big Things Grow-based on a true story of Aboriginals standing their ground. There were no casual fans present. Some may have started that way the night before but, from A to Z, you could only leave an event like this as a hardcore follower, bent on spreading the word.

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