Paul Kelly @ Kings Park and Botanic Gardens
w/ Steve Earle, Middle Kids
Saturday, November 25, 2017
There is an understandable amount of buzz for Sydney band Middle Kids. Before they had even played a live show, they released a single that saw them receive a healthy dose of radio play, and had Elton John declaring himself a fan of the fledgling band. Their short set to open proceedings at Kings Park had a fair representation from their debut EP as Middle Kids showed their knack for melody and emotion.
Hannah Joy is an impressive figure as she leads the band with youthful energy and a stirring voice. The tight and energetic performance won over a sizeable crowd of early comers, with some even christening the dance floor. On this evening’s showing there is little doubt that Middle Kids have the world at their feet.
Having left his band in the middle of a world tour so as he could play these shows at the invitation of the night’s headliner, Steve Earle was a sole figure with an acoustic guitar. He opened the show with his biggest hit Copperhead Road, before wryly stating, “now that’s out of the way”. Earle is as entertaining as a storyteller as he is as a musician (although often they are the same thing) and his banter between songs was again on point. Devil’s Right Hand was preceded by a tale of how Earle was a “peacenik with an arsenal of guns in his home,” until his teenage son laid his hands on the pistol.
Earle is an instantly recognisable figure with his generous grey beard, signature waistcoat and well-worn black jeans. Earle promised that he would be back with his full band early in the new year, where punters with have the chance to hear a more fleshed out and dynamic take on his outlaw country tunes. He played songs from Guitar Town to So You Wannabe An Outlaw to show the breadth of his catalogue, before grabbing a mandolin, joked about being mistaken for Ed Sheeran and ended with the heartfelt Galway Girl.
Paul Kelly is a rarity in this country. There are few artists who could play almost all of their new record to a wine fueled crowd during prime time and still be able to keep the punters attention for close to two hours. This is exactly what Kelly was able to do. Kicking off with a trio of new tunes including the punchy Finally Something Good, the band were switched on, but it was the often played staple of Before Too Long that got the crowd swinging.
It is obvious that Kelly has a real fondness for the talents of Vika and Linda Bull. The sisters certainly have the chops when it comes to backing vocals, but by putting them at the front of the stage with their choreographed moves, they were incongruous with the rest of the band’s down to earth approach. Adding to the disconnect was the Vika led ‘joke’ song, My Man’s Got A Cold that bordered on embarrassing, and fell well short of the mark.
There were very few misfires (although the less said about I Smell Trouble the better), and many a moment to be treasured. The crowd singing in unison to From Little Things Big Things Grow is something to savour, and Petrichor, as well as being one of Kelly’s favourite words, is also the best of his latest batch of songs. Throughout, Peter Luscombe was faultless behind the kit as per usual and guitar slinger Dan Kelly offers way more than his ill-fitting red suit.
As expected the set concluded with a swag of well known songs from To Her Door to God Told Me. Deeper Water epitomises Kelly’s standing as a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ whist still appealing to the masses. Dumb Things saw the security give up on trying to keep people in their seats towards the front of the stage and stayed that way through Australia’s finest unofficial Christmas Carol, How To Make Gravy. Steve Earle and Hannah Joy were invited back on the stage for Handle Me With Care as a tribute to Tom Petty to continue the celebration to the end.
There is an authenticity to Kelly that is so alluring. The singer feeds off this and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. His regular spot at Kings Park was another great evening for all.
Photos by Chris O’Halloran (welcome back, Chris!)