There’s something so very special about one-off events such as Make Way for Love – Marlon Williams with The Impossible Orchestra, and our expectations going into this Australian premiere/Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic exclusive last Friday were sky high. 

Once the orchestra is in place, The Yarra Benders – multi-instrumentalist Dave Khan, bassist Ben Woolley, drummer Gus Agars and guitarist Dan Luscombe – file out onto the stage, all spruced up wearing smart collared shirts and suit jackets/blazers. Conductor Brett Kelly enters. Then Marlon Williams wanders out wearing a beautifully tailored navy suit with black satin trim, crisp white shirt, black bow tie and Blundstones! Bless him, at least Williams appears to have polished this questionable choice of footwear for the occasion.

Come to Me opens proceedings and when strings enter the arrangement it’s swoon central. Such exquisite vocal harmonies! With Williams seated at the piano, Beautiful Dress positively glistens courtesy of The Impossible Orchestra’s delicate additional flourishes. Williams and The Yarra Benders exchange furtive chuffed glances – hearing your songs performed in this way must be thrilling to say the least. Williams then performs I’m Lost Without You without a guitar or piano to hide behind and completely loses himself, dancing and swaying with abandon. Dynamics fluctuate wildly: the instrumental crescendoes in vast contrast to this song’s forlorn, descending “OH, Oh, oh” vocal harmonies.

“This one’s both by and for my good friend Tim Moore,” is how Williams introduces Dark Child. And this particular version! Holy crap, can someone please release a live recording of this whole show? Referring to The Impossible Orchestra and their acoustic shields, Williams jokes, “We keep them behind glass, because despite appearances they are extremely dangerous.” Even though his songs tend toward heavy, lovelorn themes, Williams’ cheeky/daggy personality always shines through during banter, which lightens the overall tone of his live shows.

He then introduces a new song, the piano-led Being Somebody, and we get The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson vibes. Party Boy gets a suitably unleashed treatment.

Although she’s performing at the Arts Centre’s neighbouring Playhouse later tonight, Aldous Harding unfortunately doesn’t join Williams onstage to sing her parts on Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore, but he does dedicate this song to “the wonderful Aldous Harding” before praising her exceptional latest album, Designer. Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore flows straight into Make Way for Love, complete with flute trills, which sends out a hopeful message.

“Williams’ vocal control is in a league of its own and he is a melismatic master.”

When I Was a Young Girl with extra lamentation thanks to The Impossible Orchestra’s string section completely transports us; it’s as if time stands still and our souls leave our bodies – no sh-t! Williams’ vocal control is in a league of its own and he is a melismatic master. Real tears are shed. Damn you, Marlon!

As angelic as his voice sounds, Williams performs Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ Portrait of a Man with the demented power of Nick Cave at his most manic. Punters “whoop!” throughout this song, unable to contain themselves: “…and I am the MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

We’re already collectively beside ourselves and upstanding. If the show had concluded at this point, all in the house would undoubtedly have left completely satisfied. But then Williams returns to the stage, stripped down to a white singlet and explains that when he was a small child he wanted to sing opera. “This is the only chance I’m ever gonna get,” Williams adds before treating us to Je crois entendre encore – a stunning, melancholy aria from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles – mainly performed with hands in trouser pockets and eyes closed, and sung in French. What an absolute star! Williams absolutely nails it and looks barely able to contain himself up there.

Then talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous: The Yarra Benders return to the stage and go all karaoke on our arses with a stirring rendition of Mariah Carey’s Without You, Williams urging, “Come on, everybody!” hoping that we’ll all sing along (some do).

A career-defining performance from Williams – we sure hope that this won’t be a one-off collaboration with The Impossible Orchestra.