Marlon Williams

Palais Theatre, Melbourne
17 Feb 2023


Isabella Manfredi glows under the spotlight in a white pant suit as she takes a seat at the piano for a stripped-back solo set. Having recently released her debut solo album izzi last year, she’s excited to be on the road touring again, although she considers it more of a ‘prance’ given it’s only a few shows but happy to be back in it.

Many may know Manfredi as the frontwoman of the band The Preatures. She recalls her time with them and how they split up around the time the pandemic happened. “It was a tough time as a musician and we actually ended up on JobKeeper,” she reveals. At the time she missed the life of performing and being on the road. Living In The Wind is her own personal reflection that perfectly captures this uncertain time. A slowed down piano ballad of The Preatures’ iconic track Is This How You Feel? is a real treat alongside a cover of a cover of The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

For something a little different on her last song, Manfredi stands up and takes to the microphone up the front of the stage. “Does anyone in the audience not have a good sense of rhythm? You can sit this out,” she jokes. “For those of you that do, you can join in,” she continues. She bravely takes on an acapella version of her hit Jealousy, which isn’t an easy feat in a huge theatre like this, but she absolutely nails it and showcases her strong vocal talent and ability to keep the crowd in time by dividing the room into half with clickers on one side and clappers on the other.

Marlon Williams launches into a beautifully captivating acapella version of E Mawehe Ana Au in Māori-language, paying respects to his Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Tai descent. He continues with Devil’s Daughter standing underneath the stage spotlight to command the audience with his charming soulful vocals.

“Welcome to the My Boy tour,” he says as his band The Yarra Benders join him on stage for the song of the same name. It’s the last show of this headline tour of the world and he’s happy to be in Melbourne on a Saturday night. He takes us on a little trip to one of the beaches down on the South Island of New Zealand as he sings Easy Does It. We picture being here for the breezy sun-soaked anthem as he delivers heart-warming vocals.

He moves into story time of the set and shares some inspiration for some of the tracks on his latest album. “I got really into television during the lockdown and The Americans was the one that really got me,” Williams reveals. “I sometimes struggle with identity crisis and it really triggered me so I wrote a song for the character to help try and save her and sort out all it out through the power of music.” He shares this song (Thinking of Nina) and tells us he even sent it to the studio and confirms the character (Nina) is fine now.

He gives us a rough translation of next song sung again in Māori (Aua atu rā) in the simplest yet comedic way possible, basically saying ‘Fuck it’ in a bad situation. He throws in a fun guitar jam at the end to liven the moment.

Before playing his next song Trips, he shared the inspiration he drew on after reading a book about the Batavia shipwreck and the horrible experience people went through. “I was happy to be alive in 2023 and not on that boat,” he says. “It also reminded me about being on tour a little bit in a much more mellow way,” he laughs. The band take a break to leave Williams to perform solo on stage for a few crowd favourite piano ballads including an audience request Beautiful Dress and Come To Me.

The band re-joins as they pick up the pace for his pro-choice to leave a party song (Don’t Go Back To The Party), followed closely by Party Boy as he runs out into the stalls section of the audience to sing and gets everyone up on their feet. The bouncey portion of the set continues to keep the crowd out of their chairs and swinging around with Vampire Again and he casts a silhouette on the backdrop as he dances and swings his guitar around his body. After a huge energetic moment and a massive guitar jam, he catches his breath and takes it down a notch to recover.

Melbourne holds a special place for Williams, and he recalls when he moved to Melbourne a decade ago and played about 17 shows a week at every little corner of the city that would take him. To be back playing the Palais is pretty special. Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore and a cover of Barry Gibb’s Promises serves as the last songs before an inevitable encore.

After a short break Williams returns to stage solo again and picks up acoustic guitar to plays an old honky tonk cover of Jim Reeves’ He’ll Have To Go and the band then joins him for Dark Child and another beautiful Māori sung track to round out the set called Te Hokinga Mai. Williams is truly an exceptional artist who never fails to leave his audience in awe of his rare talent.

Words by Michael Prebeg

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