Since relocating from New Zealand to Melbourne in mid-2013, Lyttelton native Marlon Williams has been on the rise. The lanky troubadour is blowing away audiences across the country, from Meredith to Port Fairy, Melbourne to Mullumbimby, with his broody, alt-country ballads and affable stage presence.

Joined by his regular backing band The Yarra Benders, Williams was at The Gasometer in Collingwood late last week to launch his ‘Dark Child’ single tour, and subsequently, play songs off the forthcoming self-titled debut album. And like most Williams shows, it was sold out.

Sydney songstress Julia Jacklin kicked things off with a quiet set. Maybe too quiet, because barely anyone was listening yet. Alone with a mustard-yellow Fender Telecaster, the Blue Mountains-born blonde shared breezy tales of young love and breaking up, expressionless and rooted to the spot. “I’m 10% less nervous than last night,” she explained, her eyes scanning the increasingly busy room.

The singer-songwriter splintered her set with covers but was at her most commanding playing originals, in particular her song about long distance love, ‘Same Airport, Different Men’. Crooning with Sarah Blasko-esque languidness over a bass-heavy electric riff, Jacklin evoked a world-weariness far beyond her 20-something years.

The sound was turned up a notch when Jim Lawrie and his band came out. A Melbourne boy, Lawrie and his motley crew looked more than comfortable in front of a crowd. Lawrie sung with polished indie-rock tones about drinking too much and being anti-social. ‘I’ll Be Paying My Debts From the Grave’ spoke to the Gen-Y members of the crowd, while the more mature rock ballads were soaked up my the middle aged folk on the balcony.

Although the lead guitarist looked like Howard from The Big Bang Theory, the guy could rock, and he brought ear-piercing licks and awkward guitar stances to each solo. Lawrie’s powerhouse pop vocals complemented the boom of the percussion as the gum-chewing drummer pounded out fast beats.

By the end of Lawrie’s set, the crowd had grown substantially. Punters stood squished shoulder to squished shoulder, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment as the clock struck 10pm. Standing at 6ft-something-ridiculous, the leggy raconteur clambered onto The Gasometer stage – guitar already in hand.

As soon as that distinctive, country-twanged bellow rang out, the masses were more than attentive. He mesmerised from the get-go in a black ensemble but without his trademark hat. Slightly stooped over the microphone stand, Williams got underway with an original, ‘That’s All I Can Remember’. Written about a man who murders his cheating wife and her lover, the song is best heard live when Williams ad-libs a disturbing big sniff, as the character, preparing to die in the electric chair, “smelt something burning”.

Sandwiching songs with whimsical musings and anecdotes, the Kiwi accent always goes down a treat (think “mutton birds” as “BERDS”). His first solo single ‘Strange Things’ came shortly after – a finger-picking ditty about a man haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. It’s a running theme with Williams, despite never having a wife in the first place, let alone a dead one!

Lyrically, Williams favours a melancholic perspective on life. Most songs are straight-up murder ballads, and the rest simply ponder death and destruction. With The Yarra Benders in tow, he invited long-time friend and collaborator Tim Moore onstage to duet on ‘Dark Child’ – which Moore wrote. With a band to support him, the atmosphere of the moody tragic tale was fully and dramatically realised. The song tells the tale of a wayward boy whose violent carelessness leads him to an early grave. “My only dear long wasteful son…”, Williams crooned, as eerie guitar slide notes penetrated the echoey dual vocals.

In another duet, Williams invited his girlfriend, gothic folk singer Aldous Harding, up on stage for ‘Lonely Side of Her’. It was an intimate and special moment watching two young lovers sing to each other, and for a moment, everyone else in the room seemed to disappear. Then there were two opportunities to rock out, coming in the form of the super fast-paced ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’ and ‘Trouble I’m In’, which Williams wrote and performed when he was 17 back in New Zealand with his first band, The Unfaithful Ways.

The night ended on a quiet note as Williams completed the encore unaccompanied. You could hear a pin-drop throughout the dark and ambiguous Nina Simone cover ‘When I Was A Young Girl’, and again when he sung his own song, ‘Everyone’s Got Something to Say’.

Marlon Williams blew punters away with unique stories and songs of murder, mayhem and mutton birds. Once again, he is proving himself a force to be reckoned with. At 24 years of age, he has established a strong following, and a voice that is even stronger, and nothing compares to seeing him live. Australia is very lucky to have him!

Marlon Williams’ self-titled debut album is out April 24 through Caroline.

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