Like so many things in the universe, stars begin very small — mere particles in vast clouds of dust and gas.
In a little bit of silence between chords someone called out “put your phone down”. The adjective “fucking” was implied. It was an older male voice. The next chord hit and the band went on. Marlon smiled and sang.
Jesus helps at rock concerts.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
I tried to take his advice but, Lord, it was hard. Some people in the dense crowd that had accumulated to see Marlon seemed insistent on going to buy drinks at the bar at the back of the Hunter Lounge. Insistent on squeezing through a maze of compacted bodies to get a beer. And come back. And get another round. Some people seemed to be at the concert to drink and talk.
When Julia Deans performed it was hard to hear her over the people at the back. The people at the back seemed to be having a great time without Julia. It was like being in a classroom. If the naughty kids at the back are talking without a care in the world for what is happening at the front then the teacher is likely to lose their shit. Julia didn’t. It would have been appropriate if she had. There was a lot of middle class fuming going on in the middle of the Hunter Lounge and some pointed head turning to look meaningfully into the darkness at the rear.
I’ll admit that when a uni-student aged couple shoved into position in front of me I felt angry. On the other hand, my dinner out beforehand had been mediocre and every time the anxious wait staff had asked me how the food was I had said “good”. Complaining, I seem to be conditioned to believe, is very bad manners. Probably my balding, bespectacled, middle-aged face was annoying for the couple who had shunted me back. He had a very hairy neck and nice eyelashes. She had a lot of makeup and her eyebrows were conspicuously neat. He seemed to be looking for someone in the crowd. She was on her phone a lot.
I disliked them and myself. Which is my usual feeling in crowds.
So when some older fella shouted “put your phone down” and Marlon smiled it seemed like there was a vibe in the room that might get bitter. It makes sense that Marlon attracts a wide age range and that they mightn’t get a long when forced to stand up for hours pressed against each other like commuters on a rush hour train in Tokyo.
At the end of the song Marlon said: “what’s going on over there?” and held a hand up to shade his eyes.
A women called back: “generation gap”.
Marlon, Jesus-like, smiled. “That’s cool. Everyone can enjoy the concert in the way that’s good for them. It’s all good.”
It was then that I thought: “this guy is pretty fucking cool”. The crowd settled down to do what it had come there to do but had forgotten: participate in Marlon.
The whole of the concert was good. Let’s just say that. But I didn’t leave afterwards thinking, “that was good”, I left thinking: “fucking hell”.
Maybe when they performed Carried Away I understood something. Doing a Barry Gibb song performed by Olivia Newton John was a move that skipped along the line between awkward for-fuck’s-sake-sit-down-dad karaoke and fabulous. It was fabulous partly because it was so pastiche adjacent. The song Make Way for Love is Howard Morrison-Prince Tui Teka cabaret. But Marlon is performing the crap out of these songs, and the band is thundering forward using all its energy to create a huge, spacious sound where the bass and toms hit hard under the ringing slide guitar notes, under the luminous voice of Marlon.
He doesn’t sing Can I Call You? he acts it. As the show unfolds he stalks more across the front of the stage, a long, all-in-black slip of thing with a pretty, heartthrob head, until the band delivers its final encore Portrait of a Man which does that magic thing of sending shivers through me, up through my spine and into my neck, and makes me think: “this is what a star looks like when it is forming in front of your eyes.”
The band comes to a halt with Marlon perched somewhere near the edge of the stage and the crowd claps before the song jolts alive again and Marlon takes it up another notch. You can follow the idea of the lyrics – of a man painting a portrait of a man – through all the blues-soul moves in the book, the moves that mean catharsis, and lumber up and up on the muscular back of a blues bass line. Marlon is taking us through a great song to a punchline where the song itself is so pulsating that you think the punchline will have to be a let down.
Well. It isn’t. At the end I am convinced. I don’t want music to amuse me. I want it to take me somewhere away from myself. At the end of his tortured, beautiful cabaret I am a long, long way from the middle-class, middle-aged irritations that pricked me at the start. It reminded me of something. Another one of the ancestors.
Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of god
Wandering, wandering in hopeless night
Out here in the perimeter there are no stars
‘cept one. Marlon.
He is the man.