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Paul Kelly withstood tumultuous Melbourne floods to put on a legendary performance

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David Harris

Torrential weather couldn’t hold back the Paul Kelly faithful as an estimated 12,000 punters braved the pelting rain for a night out with Australia’s poet prince.

It was a shaky start. First act off the rank Mojo Juju had her set cut short mid-song as a speaker fell and was damaged. Water gushed down the steps and flooded the stage. The crowd ejected into the grasslands in a deluge of ponchos and concerned looks, the question of who indeed would make the gravy remained.

Those not already inside endured a two-hour wait to get back in. Luckily, Alex Lahey and co were on hand to inject some much-needed energy back into the mix. Her punchy brand of melodicv rock provided the necessary voltage to get us back onside.

Next up Angus Stone hobbled on stage with crutches and a moon boot, his sister Julia, not far behind. They charmed the crowd with the dreamy chorus of ‘Snow’, and had the effect of dimming the lights down low. Julia’s trumpet solo kept things jazzy, her notes vaguely reminiscent of the ones blown on Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.

A quick look about before the sun crept past the hills and Kelly hit the stage revealed a plain truth about the audience. His appeal is so clearly broad, and stretches across generations. He has so much to say, but who would have thought in those early days that it would be heard by many. One punter captured it succinctly: “He’s up there with any poet Australia has produced, they should teach him in schools.”

Not one to miss an opportunity, Kelly marched on stage to launch into ‘Hasn’t it Rained’. It couldn’t have been more apt if you tried. Its upbeat rhythm supported by the backing vocals from sisters Vika and Linda Bull lit up the bowl. The harmonies felt reminiscent of a Hillsong church choir session.

From here, the set traversed through the Kelly catalogue. Newer numbers like ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’, were sprinkled in between old favourites like ‘Before Too Long’. ‘Dumb Things’ in particular got everyone out of their seats for the rest of night, the rock pace proving too irresistible.

Ash Naylor called in a favour from the guitar gods during ‘From St Kilda to Kings Cross’.  He broke a string mid-riff and the ensuing chaos between him and the guitar tech was the perfect tension builder. He slung an axe around himself just in time to land Kelly’s vocals on the iconic riff, and the crowd of course cheered loudly at the commotion.

And then of course, there was ‘How to Make Gravy’. Nothing received a louder cheer from the audience, and the volume behind the chorus that joined in with Kelly as he made his way through an Australian classic told everyone in the language of decibels just how much he resonates with all.

Finally, Kelly called all the supports to the stage for a final Christmas ensemble, before bowing down this quientiessental Christmas at Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Highlight: Co-written track with uncle Kevin Carmody, ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. As moving and potent now as the day it was written.

Lowlight: The rain sometimes caused people make a fair bit of noise during some songs of the set, taking away from the stage. 

Crowd Favourite: It couldn’t be anything other than ‘How to Make Gravy’ – it is Christmas time after all.