This was an unusual concert for me in that prior to this week, I did not know who Marlon Williams was. By time I left to go home, I know who he is, and I want to now delve back into what’s there to see what I’ve been missing of the multi-nominated artist.
The stage is set in 2 halves (just as the show is) – piano and a couple of guitars to one side, his living room on the other, so it truly was going to be an evening in with him! There was lots of chat, laughter and drinks in hand, as The Hollywood is a perfect venue for eliciting the intimate feeling of being him, and making everyone feel at home.
Marlon stomped his way on stage – literally. The stomp – stomp – stomp – clap clap of him making his way out of the shadows was then looped and the scene was set for something completely different. My attention was grabbed, as was everybody else’s. His sonorous voice is the highlight and no matter what he sings, it seems to touch your soul. Waiata with a simple accompaniment lets you focus on the kupu, and tonality transports you. What I wasn’t expecting was his charm, humour, and ability to make you feel that you were not an audience, but a part of his whānau. Ka pai, e hoa.
“Welcome to The Hollywood, Haere mai, come on in… there’s no sarcasm in my voice…” friendly banter from a man in a hoodie, head covered, almost juxtaposes with the crystal falsetto we’re being treated to, but Marlon’s just being himself, and we were lucky enough to be there. You can hear that his roots are firmly in the tradition of songs that have strong melodies, and his voice is the perfect vehicle for it.
For the most part, other instruments weren’t missed, however, as he jokingly referred to later in the show to the first half being like his ‘moody-mood board”, the piano songs for me became my mood bored. His pianistic skills aren’t a patch to that of his dexterity on the guitar (such as in Devil’s Daughter in the 2nd half), and whilst his voice was evocative and took you on a journey, the chordal accompaniment on the piano hampered this, well, at least for me. “The Arahura”, from his Plastic Bouquet release 2020, is an example of how one man and a guitar can transport you, with the whole audience hanging on every beautiful, eerie pitch that he performed in a silhouette that mirrored the muted tones, making it strangely powerful in the way you were made to focus on his delivery. Marlon is a kaiwaiata, his whakapapa seamlessly integrated, whether or not it was an old song of his (he’s only 30, so how old is old??), a waiata of your tupuna, or a beloved song such as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a mesmerizing rendition of.
All systems go for the 2nd half with “Vampire Again”, costume change, backing track and high energy. Gone was the dark hoodie; in was a specially-made, flowing white silk shirt that parodied the lifting of the spirits to come. He certainly knows how to keep you interested, as a newbie to him and his live performances, I had no idea what would come next. It can be hard to find a genuine person in the music biz sometimes, but he was self-effacing when he sang a song “Nothing Can Touch My Boy”, written about himself during lockdown, had us watching the backdrop of him clad in a bathing suit. Not many artists can pull this off; Marlon is one of them.
Taking us into his living room, he poured himself a drink, sat down, and had a chat. The rapport is easy; the audience effortlessly goes wherever he wants to take them. Playing on his $150 pawn shop guitar, the living room light hung above, spotlighting the ease in which he can make a simple 3-chord song dance in the ears and illuminating the effortless way in which he commands his vast vocal range. He looks happy at home, and as he said,” very comfortable”, which leads me to conclude that I am being treated to a performance by a man who has honed his craft and lives to share that gift with us.
The two best piano songs of the night by far were “Hoiho” and “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”. Why was that? Well, who can’t help but fall in love with a song about our Bird of the Year 2019 who just happens to be an endearing little penguin, especially when the video backdrop has it swimming around and doing cutesy things, and the latter, because Marlon had saved his best piano playing for last. This when paired with his dulcet, velvet tones and full-on emotion, let me, along with the whole audience, forgive him when he hit the wrong chord in the build up to the coda. We didn’t care – because he’d built the rapport, he could do no wrong, and if he did, we loved him for it in his honesty.
After much clapping and cheering, two encores left me knowing that I had experienced something quite unexpected and special. He left his guitar centre-stage and then he left. But, he had left us with much, much more. An Evening With Marlon Williams – if you could bottle that in its entirety, I’d rush out to get a copy. If you’re already a fan, make sure you have a ticket to his almost sold-out tour; if you’re like me and are new to him, get over to Avondale and beg The Hollywood to give you a ticket – you won’t be disappointed!
Thanks to Andrea Rabin for the review.