Marlon Williams is many things. A singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, performer. Better still, he is someone appreciative of those around him. When he announced his east coast Australian tour early in 2021, and the people of South Australia voiced their desires that Adelaide be included, he listened. But like so many tours in 2020 and 2021, Williams’ was also not to be, eventually succumbing to that global pandemic that has its grip firmly around planet earth. Instead of taking it lying down, Williams offered a three day only live performance stream to his fans.
An Evening with Marlon Williams live at the Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, New Zealand, was streamed via Mandolin across the globe on 15 December 2021. Filmed on 8 May 2021, it was touted as the show Australia missed out on. And wow, what a show we missed out on!
Entering the stage through an opening between two large screens, Williams, wearing black pants, shoes and a hoodie with the hood on, launched into a captivating acapella version of E Mawehe Ana Au. Of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Tai descent, he championed his culture throughout the show, especially during the first segment.
The simplicity of Williams’ wardrobe was matched by the simplicity of the show design (lighting by Simeon Hoggen and sound by Tim Lynch) and his performance. However, this simplicity should not be mistaken for languor. If anything, it served to highlight his undeniable talent.
After the acapella opening, we heard Come to Me, Tahu Potiki, Aua Atu Rā, Arahura and Rimu Rimu before a short interval ensued. It was a poignant, serene, and thoughtful set of music. We were treated to just Williams, his instruments (piano and guitar) and his voice. Even Lynch’s lighting was minimal, with oft only a spotlight, sometimes less. At times, due to the hoodie, we did not even see Williams’ face, just heard his velvety voice reverberate through the otherwise silent theatre.
After a costume change – hoodie off, white shirt on – Williams re-emerged on stage. Instantly the atmosphere felt different. As he stood, snapping his fingers, and thrusting his hips against a hot pink backdrop, the familiar lyrics of Vampire Again emanated. Strutting across the stage, his gangly limbs flailing, and with an enormous grin on his face, it was obvious the party had begun.
A karaoke version of My Boy was summed up by Williams as “so stupid”, but it was fun too. This nonchalant attitude continued with I Wonder Why, Devil’s Daughter, Won’t You Watch Her Lilies Grow, and He Wawata – He Waiata Na Te Arawa. All of which were sung in a lounge room set up on the right of the stage.
Williams drank some whiskey and bantered with the audience like they were old friends while alternating between the lounge and piano at stage left. He sang Love is a Terrible Thing, the delightful Hoiho – a song about a penguin, The Ballad of Minnie Dean, and the audience requested, Lonely Side of Her. The hauntingly beautiful Dark Child, When I Was a Young Girl, and Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore closed out the show to a well-deserved standing ovation.
An Evening with Marlon Williams was a wonderful reminder of what a masterful talent Williams is. However, it is bittersweet knowing what a sensational live performance Australia unfortunately missed out on.
Review By Anita Kertes