Making Gravy: Paul Kelly, Courtney Barnett, Kate Miller-Heidke, and Marlon Williams at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne.
There are two Making Gravy shows left: Sat Dec 14 @ The Domain (Syd), and Sat Dec 21 @ Riverstage (Bris). Get all your info here.
While watching kids delightedly rolling down Sidney Myer Music Bowl’s grassy hill and getting all giddy, a seagull dive bombs and almost succeeds in nicking the one and only mac’n’cheese croquette from my plate.
Every single time I attend a Marlon Williams show, I leave thinking that it’s surely not possible for him – and his fabulous band, The Yarra Benders – to get any better. Midway through the second song, Dark Child, I’m happily proven wrong. Williams has grown significantly as a performer and Ben Woolley’s harmonies are celestial. We’re treated to some new songs this evening including the first song he’s ever written in Māori, another about New Zealand’s 2019 bird of the year (hoiho), one that opens with the first line of Wham!’s Last Christmas, and the hilariously-titled Soft Boys Make The Grade, Soft Girls Do Too. The violin segue from Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore into Make Way For Love is pure perfection. The Yarra Benders perform in such an understated way, but their impact is mighty.
Kate Miller-Heidke dazzles us with her operatic voice. She looks and sounds like an angel. Many in attendance probably only discovered Miller-Heidke via Zero Gravity – Australia’s entry in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, and her set closer – but few will forget her fluttering vibrato and extended high notes.
Back in CB3 manifestation, Courtney Barnett and co. are in superb form as per usual. While appreciating Avant Gardener, we suddenly recognise how much songwriting inspo Barnett garners from Paul Kelly. Her guitar playing is so wonderfully distinctive and Barnett calls to mind the late, great Chrissy Amphlett during I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch. Small Poppies contains a contender for best lyrics ever (“But I’m sure it’s a bore being you”) and Depreston takes us there. Williams joins Barnett to perform Seeker Lover Keeper’s Not Only I from her live MTV Unplugged album. Closer Pedestrian At Best must be fun for Barnett to perform these days – she’s not disappointing anyone.
“I brought the whole gang!” Paul Kelly enthuses, referencing the extraordinary talent assembled up on stage. He really is a national treasure and we decide that everyone else up there falls into the ‘national treasure in waiting’ category. Ash Naylor is a powerhouse on guitar and Peter Luscombe is the classiest of drummers. “Sing as much as you want, as loud as you want, we love it!” Kelly coaxes, but we need no encouragement as soon as Before Too Long kicks in. Introducing A Bastard Like Me, which was named after Charles Perkins’ autobiography of the same name, Kelly tells us about the Arrernte, Kalkadoon man of Irish heritage who was at the forefront of the struggle for justice for his people. While watching the film clip that features footage from Perkins’ rich and storied life, we make a mental note to do some homework on the great man who inspired this song.
Backing vocalists supreme, Vika and Linda Bull, were inducted into the Music Victoria Hall Of Fame this year, with Kate Ceberano labelling the siblings “our Tongan queens” during her speech. The sisters absolutely shine, their vocal prowess elevating every track on which they sing, particularly Firewood And Candles. Introducing his Dan Sultan collab Every Day My Mother’s Voice (which features in the Adam Goodes doco The Final Quarter), Kelly welcomes Jess Hitchcock to the stage, gushing, “I know she can kick this song through the big sticks,” and yes she can! The audience whoops and hollers their appreciation. Miller-Heidke’s turn on When We’re Both Old And Mad also raises the roof (or would, if there was one).
Sonnet 18, performed just by Kelly and a banjo player, is moving beyond belief and perfectly showcases his guitar chops. Barnett returns to the stage to perform Charcoal Lane (an Archie Roach cover) alongside Kelly, and their mutual admiration society is heart-warming to behold.
“I’m high on the hill/ Looking over the bridge/ To the M.C.G.!” – singing the opening lines to Leaps And Bounds with this specific cricket ground almost in eyeshot never gets old, and heaps of peeps who are seated in the Bowl flee into side aisles to dance to this one. The rally cry of Dumb Things lures bums off seats and How To Make Gravy reminds us of Christmases past, especially those spent overseas when this song never failed to make us homesick. All of the supports are welcomed back to the stage to perform Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), and the talent assembled on stage is astonishing.
During the encore, Williams gets to sing Winter Coat with Kelly, we’re told, because our headliner was informed that he learned this song at the age of ten. Williams’ voice transcends. As a cluster of singers gather around the mic, we know we’re about to be treated to Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air and we lap up this glorious a cappella song in reverent silence.
Making Gravy is an eagerly anticipated event on the annual festive calendar that is fast becoming a tradition. We already can’t wait to see which acts Kelly hand selects for next year’s line-up!