Meet Me In The Middle Of The AirPhoto – Shane Reid

What joy is beautiful music performed by its masters! For one night, the audience gorged ourselves on a smorgasbord of musical talent, mixing known flavours with new spice as Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra reshaped a selection of Paul Kelly’s songs into something very akin to a religious experience.

When searching for a theme for the show, Kelly realised the prevalence of biblical language in many of his songs, be they hymns or anti-hymns. He takes us from King David’s Psalm 23, known as “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air”, to Revelations, in “God Told Me To.” Kelly jokes, “For a man who doesn’t believe in God, I sure use him a lot.”

In the hands of Paul Grabowsky, Kelly’s tunes become jazz extravaganza’s, as the brilliant AAO work their wonders. In a night full of highlights, the band’s masterful musicianship constantly impressed, each performer shining in solos and creating exquisite duets. Overall, it’s one small orchestra punching far above its weight.

Holding their own beside the AAO stands the six person Choir with No Name, lead by one name many jazz lover’s recognise, Tina Harrod. When Harrod is on stage, she’s hard not to watch. Yet she and her choir perfectly complement the four headline names – our two beloved Pauls, along with the Bull sisters, Vika and Linda.

Vika and Linda Bull bring their own unique tones and talents to this already diverse treat. Sisters who have shared the stage for over twenty-five years, they not only meld beautifully with each other, but move effortlessly between different styles, layering the songs with gospel, pop, jazz and island tones from their Tongan heritage. Each has a hugely individual voice; Vika’s is amazingly powerful – her mic held two feet away for high notes – and superbly controlled. Linda’s is smoother and more mellow than her sister’s, with intriguing husky tones.

The sisters have performed with Kelly before and included many of his songs on their albums. This long-held camaraderie shows in their humour and obvious comfort on stage together. The whole set is relaxed, like they’re just out for a fun night, doing what they love.

The lighting and staging must be mentioned. The stage fly was wonderfully used to reflect shadows of the musicians, their images painted in gentle light behind the originals. The lighting design was precisely cued and enhanced climactic moments in songs. The set also features around two dozen moon-like lanterns, hanging in a wave above the stage. Their simplistic beauty and tasteful use is another complement to the show. This is a production with a perfectly balanced pitch, in every sense.

Grabowsky’s arrangements completely remove Kelly from his soft rock/country/ballad comfort zones and into a completely different world of sound and movement. Kelly must be congratulated for performing his songs to a completely different rhythm, with only remnants of the old tune. We can tell that he misses his guitar, yet he finds things to do with his limbs that leave the performers and audience in stitches, exploding at one sudden moment into frenetic dancing. Kelly exudes a down-to-earth relaxation. It is a wonder that he remains so apparently humble in the face of such praise and popularity. And for continuing to challenge his art he deserves the greatest respect.

Another unassuming genius is Grabowsky, the real mastermind behind the show. Grabowsky listened with his ear for jazz, discovering alternative beats, notes, lengths and pitches throughout Kelly’s music. He not only plays to the strengths of the brilliant AAO, which he started over 15 years ago, but also to Vika and Linda’s unique voices. Throughout the show he moves from piano to percussion, bopping to the music as he goes. He emits no sense of control or supervision – only a full-bodied delight in the creation surrounding him. Grabowsky took this mammoth task and wove every element into an exaltation of wondrous sound, and a tribute to the act of coming together to make it.

Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air

Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
Date: Saturday July 30, 2011
Bookings: BASS 131 246 |

Most read Adelaide reviews

 This is a remarkable and very timely and pertinent play, expertly staged and directed by Libby...

There's something special about Aussie rural country towns. They all share some characteristics...