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Review + Photos: Marlon Williams & APO – Villa Maria Estate Winery, Auckland

Review + Photos: Marlon Williams & APO – Villa Maria Estate Winery, Auckland

Review: Danielle Street / Photo credit: Dane Scott Creative / Monday 18th February, 2019 9:13AM

A few days ago I overheard veteran music journalist Trevor Reekie describing Marlon Williams as being “one song away from world domination”. It’s true, Williams has the wind underneath his wings at the moment. Last year was a banner year for the musician and now, as 2019 is just getting warmed up, Marlon can add another string to his bow - seeing his striking songs given another dimension thanks to the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

The ambitious one-off show comes exactly a year after the release of Marlon’s gut-wrenching record Make Way For Love, and has been billed as a unique part of the ongoing Tūrangawaewae Tour. The word tūrangawaewae means places where we feel especially empowered and connected. It’s a fitting sentiment, and the muted shades of green and rolling landscape of the winery provide the perfect backdrop for this very special occasion.

As the support act, Don McGlashan is working his way through a few classics as people picnic on the lawn, meanwhile others mill around the seated section trying to navigate the vaguely charted grounds to find their spot. The whole thing is set up like a mini-festival, food trucks and frustrating payment options included.

Shortly after McGlashan wraps up his set, Marlon’s band The Yarra Benders (Dave Khan, Ben Woolley, Gus Agars and Dan Luscombe) take their place at the front of the stage while members of the reduced-sized orchestra also filter in and take their seats. It seems a little cramped on the portable stage, large perspex screens employed to cutdown noise bleed between the orchestra and the band.

When Marlon comes out, the audience is audibly elated. Our collective hearts swoon as he takes the stage while brandishing his signature cheeky grin and a wee mullet he’s been cultivating, a single upside-down cross dangling from his ear. He doesn’t speak, but launches straight into ‘Come To Me’ while dusk starts to settle and the moon sits low in the sky. After performing ‘I Know a Jeweller’ he gives a jovial welcome and introduces himself, the band, the orchestra. “Let us indulge,” he says, and indulge we do.

For the next 90-or-so minutes, Marlon takes us on a captivating journey of highs and lows. Turning the dial from heartache to joy, and all shades of emotion in between. His ability to provoke any mood of his choosing is astounding, as he works through songs from his latest record as well as some old favourites from his 2015 self-titled debut.

The orchestra lends a certain atmosphere, but overall there is a sense of restraint. There are beautiful moments, like when the flute, harp and chimes bring a lilting feeling to ‘A Beautiful Dress’, or the tuba gives a stormy depth on ‘Dark Child’. But at times it’s hard not to feel like the orchestra would have benefitted from a bit more space, or that tighter choreographing on the camera work might have augmented the arrangements thoughtfully put together by composer Claire Cowan.

The centrepiece of the show truly is Marlon, and more specifically, his voice. It cuts through the air like a hot knife through butter. All eyes are on him as he playfully dances through the blood-red lighting on stage while he performs crowd favourite, ‘Vampire Again’. And he gets giggles from the audience when he sits down at the piano to perform ‘I Didn’t Make A Plan’ and has a little gee shucks moment. His smile is infectious and we are eating out of his proverbial palm.

A personal highlight is when Marlon performs ‘I'm Lost Without You‘, a song he announces as being “first recorded by Billy Fury in 1965”. His eyes squeezed tightly shut as he completely loses himself in the moment and lets the song rip through the evening air.

He also treats us to a recently penned song, an Elton John-esque number he says he wrote recently, for an unborn person. Someone imagined that he is welcoming to the word while simultaneously apologising. Here the orchestra is absent. The focus solely on the man of the moment.

As the show winds to a finish, there is the inevitable and much-welcomed encore. Marlon walks back onstage and sits down at the piano. “The special moments keep coming for me,” he says as he welcomes Don McGlashan back on stage to perform ‘Love is a Terrible Thing’, with McGlashan on the tenor horn. Its haunting simplicity is enough to send chills down the spine.

In one final flourish, Marlon whips off his work shirt for the very last song. In a white singlet, on bended knee he serves up an absolutely killer cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ tune ‘Portrait Of A Man’. The breeze in his hair, he goes full Nick Cave mode and lurches off the front of the stage. It doesn’t get much better than this - seeing someone so talented so utterly in their element.

Leaving the grounds of the Villa Maria Estate, it all sinks in, just how lucky we are to see this remarkable performer in this setting, on the precipice of world domination.

Marlon Williams' Tūrangawaewae tour of Aotearoa continues throughout February and March, for dates and more info head along here. To view a gallery of Dane Scott Creative's photos of Saturday's event, click on the thumbnails below.

Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Marlon Williams   Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

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Marlon Williams, Don McGlashan and band, Emily Fairlight
Sun 3rd Mar 8:00pm
Town Hall, Christchurch