It’s impossible to be anything other than completely charmed by Marlon Williams

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It’s impossible to be anything other than completely charmed by Marlon Williams

marlon Williams
Credit: Eloise Coomber
Words by Bryget Chrisfield

We were meant to experience An Evening With Marlon Williams three years ago.

Tonight, Williams reveals he was all set to fly across the ditch from New Zealand to play those original Australian dates – waiting in the Virgin Lounge at the airport (“not a metaphor”), no less – but, of course, COVID The Fun Sponge had other plans.

The first section of An Evening With Marlon Williams – which he later hilariously describes as “sad-boy hoodie time” – kicks off with a haka of sorts. Williams, barely lit and resembling a hooded ninja in all black, performs percussive movements while sing-chanting in language accompanied by a minimal, foot-stomping beat. He then heads stage right to take a seat at the piano.

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From the very first syllable of Beautiful Dress (from 2018’s heartbreak album, Make Way For Love), we’re spellbound. In profile, Williams’ face is almost completely obscured by his hood. His dark outfit makes him fade into the background, but Williams is backlit with blinding light beams accentuating his silhouette. Let’s face it, we could close our eyes for the show’s duration and still have the absolute best time in Williams’ presence thanks to his divine, God-given gift. Come To Me is mesmerising.

It’s hard to believe Williams is a relative newcomer to piano. We recall seeing him play keys – somewhat tentatively – during a one-off gig at The Curtin in 2017, during which many new songs were premiered live before he headed into the studio to record his second album, Make Way For Love (2018).

Removing his hood, Williams heads centrestage to perform a selection of songs on guitar, including fan-favourite Dark Child and a sublime cover of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. His exquisite pipes need no embellishment, as the Māori Waiata that ushers in interval proves yet again.

There was next to no banter during the short, half-hour-ish first act, but we’re quick to realise “the fun part” of An Evening With Marlon Williams follows intermission. Williams vamps on stage clad in an oversized grey jacket – David Byrne meets The Artful Dodger. The second act kicks off with a “karaoke” section, the use of backing tape freeing Williams up for some daggy dancing à la Napoleon Dynamite. As he hams it up big time, a few Beatlemania squeals of delight ring out from the stalls. My Boy is an absolute delight. It’s impossible to be anything other than completely charmed by the “doo-doo-doo” vocal percussion of this mood-enhancing number, which Williams has labelled “Māori disco bop”. His cover of Lonnie Johnson’s Looking For A Sweetie hits the sweet spot.

Stage left is set-up like a wee living room: rug, dangling lampshade, side table containing a couple of ornaments Williams admits he’s never seen before alongside a crystal decanter and glass for all his whisky-imbibing needs – so classy! Williams shares the guitar he’s playing was a $150 pawn shop find. He then admits I Wonder Why – from the album he recorded with Canadian duo, Kacy & Clayton (2020’s Plastic Bouquet) – has grown on him, despite initial suspicions relating to how quickly this song took shape.

Williams introduces a tune he penned about the hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) – “New Zealand Bird of the Year, 2019!” Footage of this waddling feathered friend graces the giant screen and audience members can’t handle the cuteness.

His endearing banter is routinely greeted by charmed audience laughter, especially the “rough” English translation of the first Māori Waiata he ever wrote, which is about being alone on a sinking boat (Aua atu rā). Williams performs one song sitting on the floor of the stage, cross-legged, front and centre.

A front-row dude rises from his seat to literally move a stage light out of his sightline at one point – who does that!? Williams handles it as best he can: “I admire the gumption, but don’t touch the lights.” His main set concludes with Promises – the Barry Gibb-penned number that closes out his latest My Boy record (2022) – during which we do miss his long-time buddy Ben Woolley, who Williams has known and harmonised with since he was about 12, on BVs (if you’ve heard them singing together, you know).

Williams admits he loves playing in Melbourne – having moved here back in 2013 – and feels grateful that “the most formative years of [his] musical life” were spent honing his chops in this city. He lived above the Yarra Hotel in Abbotsford for a spell, gigging five times a week to eke out a living, and now here he is performing three solo shows at Melbourne Recital Centre!

A punter hollers a request for When I Was A Young Girl, which Williams immediately agrees to (it was probably next on his setlist anyway). A long-time set highlight, Williams’ impassioned portrayal and extraordinary vocal control shine brightest during this one. His versatility is astounding – heck, we’ve even experienced Williams performing an aria from George Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (yep, in French), backed by an orchestra! We eagerly anticipate his next musical chapter, which looks to be a collection of both traditional and original Māori Waiata.

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