Marlon Williams and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra lifted the stars a little higher last night above Villa Maria in Auckland. It was an all Kiwi love affair that kicked off with Emily Fairlight, followed by the iconic Don McGlashan (Blam Blam Blam, Mutton Birds) with buddies Sean James Donnelly (SJD and Bellbirds) and Chris O’Connor of The Phoenix Foundation, and of course Marlon Williams who enchanted and bedazzled the large and lively crowd at the popular winery.
There are not many good venues in Auckland to play outside on a late summer afternoon. But unfortunately, the organisers did their best to start things on the wrong note for this particular show at Villa Maria... more about that later.
While everyone settled down for the main event, Don McGlashan gave us not only a taste of Kiwiana, but also reminded every one what a treasure he is.
Don McGlashan came to the stage as we were arriving – our timing messed up by the sort of horrendous motorway snarl-up that makes the rest of the country feel a little superior. I missed Emily Fairlight's performance but by all accounts, she played an excellent set. Don kicked off with Lucky Stars, with his band mates SJD and Chris O’Connor (a relationship that has been going longer than the time Don was with the Mutton Birds) and delighted us with a splendid, albeit short, set.
Mixed with old tracks and new, including the wonderful Song For Sue, which gave a hint of what his new album will sound like. Often, at gigs like this, the crowd expect just the hits... But thankfully, Don is as relevant today as he was in his Blam Blam Blam days. His choice of songs, like White Valliant, while never a hit at the time, was a splendid example of the depth he possesses as an artist. When played live, his music truly showcased his song-writing skills and this was handsomely acknowledged by the growing crowd.
Don played some bangers as well... including The Heater and finished off with one of the best love songs a Kiwi has ever written, Anchor Me. I suspect he won a few new younger fans... judging by the way many joined in with the chorus as the sun faded away.
A short break then allowed (or not in this case) for many punters to fill their wine glasses. And it’s here, that the organisers require some criticism. The organisation for drinks was quite appalling with a payment system that many considered unfair... forcing people to pay a fee for the privilege of then paying for their drinks. It also failed to give the promised speedier queuing and there were many dark mutterings in the lengthy lines. Let’s hope the relevant organisers get it right next time. Fortunately, this situation did not overshadow what was overall an incredible evening and celebration of New Zealand music.
The main act was heralded by the arrival of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) on stage. They were joined by a slightly intimidated Marlon Williams, somewhat taken aback by his biggest crowd to date. What a buzz it must have been for him to see such an audience mixed with a range of generations. This support speaks volumes of Marlon's body of music to date.
Marlon kicked off with Come To Me, the first track from his latest album Make Way For Love. It is a wonderful mix of Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak... and the APO behind Marlon lifted the track along with his angelic vocals. If there was anyone in the audience who felt unsure how the gig was going to go, their concerns were immediately stripped away and leaving them with the feeling that this was going to be a special night.
I’m not sure that Marlon's new "mullet" look fitted his next song, being the up-tempo I Know A Jeweller... but I don’t think anyone cared. It’s a nice nod to days gone by and showcases the 50s Americana sound we love today.
“Good evening everyone, good to see you all” Marlon greeted the crowd and then he was off... with a nod to the orchestra to showcase just what live strings can add to a song that was recorded in a haunting spacious style. The APO again lifted the song to another level and octave, if that was even possible. Simply brilliant and a true gem of the evening.
From there Marlon slipped from behind the guitar to the front of the piano, where he tickled the ivories to I Didn’t Make A Plan, showcasing not only his songwriting skills but musicianship as well. It was at this point that it grabbed me, and the rest of the audience too I suspect, what a find this young man is to our musical heritage. I couldn’t help thinking how he would be wrapped with loving arms playing at any Americana gig in the States.
Marlon Williams genuinely captures the ghosts of the past but adds his own signature in a way that demands his voice be listened to.
The rest of the evening went along this way with Can I Call You, a tortured piece of hurt spat out like snake venom, and the far more upbeat What’s Chasing You throwing a wonderful blanket of serenity over the audience.
As the night grew deeper, the crowd drew closer to the stage... much like a band of cowboys would around a campfire as the freshness of the night tapped at their shoulders.
By the end of the show, there were many hands and hearts being held, accompanied by nods and singalongs aplenty. Another standout for me was the Nick Cave-sounding Portrait Of A Man that was sent whispering over the vines.
I am certain that everyone who attended last night’s show, bookended by two great musicians of different times and genre, will remember it for a long time to come. Many will be waiting with anticipation just to see what the younger of the pair might do next. Personally I can’t wait for both.