Invading the eardrums of Taronga Zoo’s animal residents doesn’t seem to phase any of tonight’s patrons, as they wind their way down to the sprawling grass above Athol Bay. It’s as if the squawking of the exotic birds or the distant trumpeting of elephants fade into the background, second to the jangling alt-country vibes of opening act Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders.
For an act that embodies a genre that a great deal would turn their noses up at, Williams seems to hold an aura that attracts both young and old. Quite the scene, as people from all demographics continue to rock up, roll out their rugs and chomp lazily on prosciutto, cheese and crackers.
Against the hazy city skyline, the light fades and Williams greets us with opening track Strange Things, a slightly quirky number with sporadic percussive crashes and a finicky strumming pattern to give that introspective glimmer to the track. He slips effortlessly into follow-up track Silent Passage, voice sounding more reminiscent of the king Elvis Presley’s smooth, sultry baritone than ever before. Diverting to twisted ode to love Heaven For You and slow-burning echoer Bloodletter, taken from his collaborative album with Delaney Davidson, we submerge briefly into his self-titled 2015 record with After All, before being treated to a rousing solo performance of Roberta Flack’s classic First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. A wretched and emotion-driven rendition of Dark Child begins to round out the set, as well as a spritely blue-grass finish, with all musicians crowding around centre microphone strumming wildly and singing their hearts out. Those down the front love it so much they attempt a sloppy hoedown of sorts, much to the amusement of others.
Rested up on more wine during a 20-minute interval, Northern Territory bluesman C.W. Stoneking takes to the stage donning all white, a strapping guitar, and his signature husky drawl. Flanked on his right by Australia’s own vocal treasures Vika and Linda Bull, they add the volume and strength behind Stoneking’s music, wearing all burgundy dresses and dancing vigorously to the beat. That trademark bluesy and often incoherent vocal of Stoneking comes with opening track How Long from his 2014 album Gon’ Boogaloo. Continuing on into lethargic track The Zombie, the spooky vibe of this track provides a bit of fun as Vika and Linda harmonise backing vocals and make child-like sound effects at appropriate moments. Funky, horn-led number Get On the Floor holds a sweet tone, preceding Stoneking’s statement of “I need some vodka”, before taking a swig of the more sobering bottle of h20 before him.
For the next hour and 10 minutes, we’re treated to a great chunk of his latest record Gon’ Boogaloo. Fourth track The Thing I Done holds its own as a nostalgic piece of soul music with a minimalistic drum pattern, basing its full momentum on guitar and horns. Fifth track from the album Tomorrow Gon’ Be Too Late arrives with grand horns, rendering the audience silent between each tracks.
Tracks Going Back South with it’s carrying storyline and delicious guitar solo, and Good Luck Charm lifted by the beautiful, gentle drumming pattern please the crowd. But his courteous demeanour and humourous anecdotes are what make tonight’s performance, dedicating track Jungle Lullaby “to the animals claiming it’s “a bit of atmosphere for them”, and revealing that he wrote On a Desert Isle, “down the supermarket”.
It’s that stout country humour and sincere musicianship that lures many to the vintage styling of C.W. Stoneking’s music. Let’s hope the animals were as enthralled as we were.
Gallery: C.W. Stoneking, Marlon Williams – Twilight At Taronga, Sydney 11.03.16 / Photos: Annette Geneva