REVIEW: Paul Kelly, Steve Earle & Middle Kids at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre

You get the feeling that Newcastle has really missed Paul Kelly. The adoration in the Newcastle Entertainment Centre last night is a feeling usually reserved for seeing a long lost friend. But for one of Australia’s finest songwriters, the chance to come round and catch up is never too frequent.

Sydney outfit Middle Kids opened up the evening’s proceedings. A band that has been on the rise since the release their of their self-titled debut EP; opening for one of their heroes is just another notch on their belt. The band blew through their half hour set, sailing peaks and valleys, and making fans along the way.

Steve Earle is a commanding presence. Taking to the stage with only an acoustic guitar, he quietly fumbles around before launching into his biggest hit; ‘Copperhead Road’. Pausing for a moment at the end, he let’s the song hang in the air.

“So that’s fucking sorted. That’s one way to get the drunks out of the bar.”

From then on, Earle’s set felt as intimate as a bar on a Sunday night. He leaps from song to song, barely letting the notes rest before beginning a fresh one. In-between songs, he would talk to the crowd; sharing stories about gun control and his son Justin Townes Earle.

Steve Earle finishes off his set by switching to the mandolin for ‘Johnny Come Lately’ and ‘Galway Girl’ – with a promise to return in the new year with a full band in tow.

Paul Kelly is a national treasure. There is no simpler way to put it. Who else could bring Newcastle to their feet for two standing ovations on a Wednesday night?

Launching into their set with the first two songs from the 23rd studio album Life Is Fine, it’s clear from the start it’s going to be one to remember. Kelly took a moment to welcome us to the show, before launching into ‘Before Too Long’.

It was a set that covered the span of the man’s historic career, while still highlighting the tremendous work that is ‘Life Is Fine’. Nearly the entire album was played throughout the night; from Kelly taking to the keys for ‘I Smell Trouble’ to the sweet and intimate ‘Petrichor’.

Paul Kelly was joined by a backing band that was a force to be reckoned with; featuring Dan Kelly on Lead Guitar and Rockwiz’s Peter Luscombe on the Drums.

The Bull Sisters stood at Kelly’s side, providing vocals and percussion – both Vika and Linda were given their chance to truly shine, taking centre stage for the songs ‘My Man’s Got A Cold’ and ‘Don’t Explain’ respectively.

The hits were being laid down thick and fast in a set that spread itself out over an hour and a half. ‘How To Make Gravy’ elicited the biggest cheers of the night, while ‘Dumb Things’ and ‘Deeper Water’ brought people to their feet.

Kelly took a moment to thank the crew (in the form of a poem) before inviting Steve Earle back on stage for a cover of The Travelling Wilburys hit ‘Handle With Care’. He quickly came back for an encore; delivering ‘Sydney From A 747’, ‘Rock Out On The Sea’ and ‘Darling It Hurts’ in quick succession. Paul Kelly is a National Treasure.

Written by Spencer Scott

Spencer is a singer/songwriter from Newcastle. He's also a Triple J Unearthed Super User and writes for many national publications.

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