Paul Kelly – Old St Paul’s Wellington – 22nd March 2013

The evening kicked off with Aucklander Lydia Cole. Her diminutive frame and barely there song constructs created a package that centred on the rejected world of a 22 year old girl drowning in the backwash from the sea of love. However, her voice showed a restrained power and professionalism beyond her years. Despite her self-confessed nervousness Cole showed she had the competence to quietly work a room with self-effacing humour. Pity we didn’t see more of it, though. Her songs were only held together by the simplest of strings and very rarely expanded to even a chord change. There was room to grow, so here’s hoping she can wrangle a band next time. Mind you, the audience were appreciative, perhaps reminded that Bic Runga also started this way, and look at her now!
For those who caught Kelly’s recent ‘mongrel memoir’ book tour shows another visit may seem a little too soon. After all the substance of that trip centred on his past works and although we all love to hear the classics one more time I can’t feeling just a little hungry for something new. And tonight that’s what we got. Accompanied by his nephew Dan Kelly on a vast arsenal of guitars the duo played Kelly’s new record, Spring and Fall through in its entirety. The album, which he made with Dan is a song cycle of a love affair, told from many sides, measuring the slow rise and crashing decent of relationship from the optimism of “New Found Year” and “When a Woman Loves a Man”, through infidelity (“I’m Gonna Be Good”) and betrayal (“Cold as Canada”) to the final autopsy years later (“Little Aches and Pains”). Kelly has always been able to tap humanity and emotion like the sap from a maple tree. His wry humour, sparse arrangements and sometimes haunting delivery transported me to the white collar brick terraced houses of Victoria, where I imagine the people in these songs reside. I can see the meeting of new lovers; the fighting; the arguments; the drinking to excess; the women in their pinnies and florals – the men in white singlets and jeans. That said, the of course these themes are universal and applying to any situation. Such is the power of a good song.
Given that he’s just jumped off a full on tour with Neil Finn across the ditch Kelly is looking and sounding in fine form. His short stature, thin frame and bald head is almost comical against Dan’s wild curly crop and towering body mass. Yet it was Kelly Snr. who did all the talking and most of the singing. The short guys are always the loudest! Jnr was content to play rhythm, lead and bass on individual tunes. BTW, full credit should be given at this point to the guitar tuner, almost the third member, who kept a constant supply of instruments at the ready, and in the correct key for the next tune. I wonder how Neil will measure up when he appears on Saturday night amongst this daring duo?
Part 2 of the show was not just a straight out ‘best of’ collection with Kelly carrying on his relationship theme with a couple of numbers, including an oldy “Difficult Woman” before the big guns came out (“Winter Coat”, “Before Too Long”, “Careless”, “When I first Met Your Ma”). Alas no “St Kilda to Kings Cross”. A personal favourite “Making Gravy” had the added effect of a telephone effect on the mic during the first verse. Kelly delicately picked his way around a sensitive and slightly sinister variant of “They Thought I Was Asleep”, a song about listening in on a parents’ argument in the backseat of the car – I think there were many lumpy throats after that one. As too there was for me after “Deeper Water”, which is about the relationship between a man and his son. Given my own elderly father’s poor health in recent days, I could help feeling a little closer to the song. A reworking of an EE Cummings poem produced ”The Foggy Fields of France” for Kelly’s 2007 Stolen Apples album. It was great to see him getting back to his poetry roots. That was affirmed in his last encore piece entitled “????” on the set list: – an a cappella construction of biblical verses centred around the phrase “Come and meet me in the air”. Given the location, the simple power of his lyrics and potential memories of the crowd leaving with his music ringing in their ears it was the perfect sentiment to round off the evening.

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