Marlon Williams, perhaps New Zealand’s second most famous musical export, was clearly amped to play The Troubadour on Tuesday night. A few times, he made reference to the rich history of the venue and, more specifically, to Guns ‘N Roses. Initially, the reference came across as a little surprising. Williams, possessor of a haunting and honeyed tenor, seems to be inextricably linked to the sound (and era) of Roy Orbison.

But as the show accelerated from an opening acoustic section to a harder-edged electric portion, the GNR praise received validation. Inside Williams and his band, the Yarra Benders, lies far more than a one-dimensional throwback palette.

Sure, the Orbison thing is pretty much undeniable, but so was Marlon and band’s versatility. The foursome closed the show with a run of bluegrass jams and a sexed-up finale (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Portrait of a Man”).

Even if some tracks off Marlon Williams’ self-titled release sound as if they are descendent from another time, look no further than the lyrics of his excellent and creepy “Strange Things” for a reminder of the true era. The protagonist lost his wife “in 1989.” How could this not be modern music?

Yarra Bender Dave Kahn is a heck of a utility man, highly proficient with a fiddle or, more often, the mandolin. His slide work on mandolin was not only beautiful, but a style rarely seen. Bassist Ben Woolley (upright and electric) and drummer Gus Agars are the other YBs. Together, the band often pulled off impeccable multi-part harmonies and drank Tecates from the can.

Before the seventh offering of the set, Marlon and Kahn strapped on their electrics for a new song, possibly titled “Come To Me.” With the jolt that followed, it was as if The Troubadour had been transported decades ahead of where they had just been.

But eras were fluid all night. The next number, “I’m Lost Without You,” captured the spook of The Doors, while “The End of the World” could have been played at The Enchantment Under the Sea dance.

The playful “After All” saw Williams himself take a screaming lead solo, resembling an animatronic figure in its choppy execution. The song borrowed a bit of The Beatles, especially when it ended with its repeating lyrics, “Then I’ll know I love you after all.”

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“Dark Child,” one of the best cuts off of Marlon Williams, provided a perfect runway for Williams’ vocals to take off towards the end of the song. Considering the subsequent Built to Spill-like solo and bouncy, bass-driven mini reggae lurch outro, the collective sounds within the song amounted to a telltale sign of a great band. The moment was greater than the sum of its parts.

Marlon Williams & the Yarra Benders Setlist at The Troubadour

Lonesome Town (Ricky Nelson cover)
Strange Things
Silent Passage (Bob Carpenter cover)
Unknown 1
Unknown 2
The Ballad of Minnie Dean (Helen Henderson cover)
Come To Me (new song)
I’m Lost Without You (Teddy Randazzo cover)
After All
Unknown 3
The End of the World (Sylvia Dee/Skeeter Davis cover)
Dark Child
Trouble I’m In (Unfaithful Ways cover)
Hello Miss Lonesome

Encore:
When I Was a Young Girl (solo)(traditional)
If That’s The Way You Feel (The Stanley Brothers cover)
Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine (The Stanley Brothers cover)
Portrait of a Man (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover)

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Marlon Williams