The holiday season, above all else, centres on tradition. Most families are doing things the way they’ve always done on Christmas Day, eating the food they’ve always eaten, laughing with the company they always have, listening to the music they always do. For many Australians, Paul Kelly’s ‘How To Make Gravy’ is a seminal festive season song and his decision to tour his storied discography every December since 2017 has been welcomed with open arms. 2019, indeed, was no different.
If not about tradition, the holidays are certainly about feeling warm, feeling comfort and feeling loved. The beaming tone to Paul Kelly’s voice and the scenic landscapes crafted with his words has made us feel that for decades, and when he took over Sydney’s The Domain it was felt tenfold.
Supported by his own extended family, the crowd was warmed up by the beautiful vulnerability of Thelma Plum, the effortless charisma of Marlon Williams, the progressive pop of Kate Miller-Heidke and the masterful lyricism of Courtney Barnett, whose impeccable ability to story-tell is probably only rivalled by Kelly himself.
And the familial love for one another was shared constantly throughout the night. Any time someone could express their gratitude to Kelly and honour the other artists and bands on the bill, they would. Any time they could thank the crowd for coming out to see them, they would.
But for Kelly, every track in his near 30 song set was bookended by a name drop of someone he has collaborated with, someone he’s inspired by or someone he felt he needed to pay credit. He has an intrinsic understanding that his success and legacy wasn’t achieved by he and he alone, but because he is such an open and welcoming collaborator.
He brought up Marlon Williams and Kate Miller-Heidke for performances of select songs, but his two notable on-stage collabs came in the form of Courtney Barnett and the legendary Kasey Chambers. He and Barnett united for a stunning cover of Archie Roach’s ‘Charcoal Lane’, which was a far cry from the thrashing set Barnett had delivered just before. But Chambers was brought on as a surprise guest where she and Kelly performed their new collaboration ‘When We’re Both Old & Mad’ to thunderous applause.
But his open arms extended to people beyond musicians too. He played ‘A Bastard Like Me’, which was inspired by First Nations civil rights activist Charles Perkins (whose granddaughter Rachel Perkins was in the audience). Then there was ‘Every Day My Mother’s Voice’ performed with the help of the gorgeous vocals of Jess Hitchcock, which was written for The Final Quarter – a documentary centring around Adam Goodes.
Making Gravy is (hopefully) becoming a traditional festive season musical event, but Kelly is aiming to subvert what we consider tradition to be with the event’s very existence. He’s not billing the tried and true acts that his core audience grew up with and adore. Instead, he’s introducing Gen X and above to artists that are as powerful as they are talented, and this year they’re as political as the gravy man himself.
And, when he brought all artists and bands on the bill on stage to perform a version of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, it truly felt like family. It felt like we were watching family on stage as they all belted their hearts out and it felt like family in the tightly packed crowd as people of all ages and backgrounds united through love – love of Paul Kelly and the love of feeling comfort and peace, if only for a moment.
But that moment was glorious and the electricity it sparked was palpable. Paul Kelly has been giving us these electrifying moments for decades now, but Making Gravy proves that his legacy as an artist, an activist and a legend will never, ever fade.
The Making Gravy tour concludes in Brisbane on Gravy Day itself – Saturday, December 21st.