Transitioning from fronting a popular band to being a solo performer is a path well-travelled, but that’s not to say it’s a simple one. Many have tried and failed, but it’s those artists who really have something new to offer that can turn it into something exciting.
The Preatures’ front-woman, Isabella Manfredi – on stage completely solo (for the most part) – felt like a fairly vulnerable proposition for not only the artist, but the crowd watching her. A seated Enmore is a foreign place for many, and the complete focus being on Manfredi located behind a Fender Rhodes organ would have make anyone’s nerves tingle.
Ultimately, these nerves and that vulnerability made Manfredi’s support slot feel even more special. Singing songs from her debut solo record, “izzi”, Manfredi was gentle in her delivery, even though we know her voice could soar when needed. Such was the sensitivity of her voice that during a cover of the Carole King-penned classic, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, her voice cracked; tears flowing, even to her surprise.
“I don’t even know why I’m crying. It’s just such a sad song! Carole King would be like, pull yourself together!” exclaimed Manfredi as she did just that and continued the beautiful rendition of the song.
The guest appearance of once Preatures guitarist, Gideon Benson, was a welcome surprise as both performed “Is This How You Feel?” for the first time in seven years in celebration of a decade since its release. The set was a sweet, albeit loose, treat for those that had taken their seats early and an intimate chance to see Manfredi before she inevitably scales up her live show.
There is an aura around Marlon Williams. The Christchurch born crooner has a swagger, a cheeky lilt and an image more suited to the 1950’s than current times, and when he sings you are transfixed. Arriving on-stage to a tradition Māori song, he doesn’t waste any time diving into the title track from his third album, “My Boy”. The up-beat raucousness of the track resulted in one of the sizeable congas slipping off the percussionist’s platform, smashing into a violin, the property of multi-instrumentalist Dave Khan. It was a comedic but almost tragic start to the show. The violin was thankfully still used later in the show to its full capacity!
It takes a certain sort of performer to be able to engage with the audience in between every song and that’s exactly what Williams does. Not only is he engaging, but he’s hilarious. From discussing Nina from “The Americans” to stories of long-away ships and plagues to receiving flowers on stage and joking about what they’re called (peoines? Isn’t that a mountain range?), he is constantly keeping you grinning from ear to ear in between his outstanding performance.
At one stage, he goes solo on the keyboard for a stunning rendition of “Beautiful Dress”. Closing your eyes and letting it wash over you felt like the right thing to do as we immersed ourselves in the old-fashioned warmth of his vocals. This transitioned into a “Come To Me” double-act – his own song morphed into Björk’s song of the same name. It was a perfect example of the adaptability and diversity of the singer that he can do so within a blink of an eye.
The backing band were outstanding, giving Williams the basis on which to cut loose on stage. At some stages, it felt like an improvisational jam, but it always came back together with the nod of a head.
“Party Boy” saw the singer abandon the stage, running up the aisles to his adoring brethren, by this stage completely hooked on every word. “Promises”, the final track from his latest album and a song written by Barry and Robin Gibb for Barbara Streisand, rounded out the set, but of course there would be an encore and another haunting and beautiful Māori folk song, “Te Hokinga Mai”. The meaning – “the return of international respect for Māori art and culture” feels perfectly suitable, given the singers connection to his heritage and promotion of his culture.
One of his oldest songs, “Dark Child”, closed the show, but the crowd wanted more and didn’t want to let Williams leave the stage – it didn’t feel like he wanted to go either. “I’ll be back soon!” he declared and all we can do is hope that this is true. A beautifully textured, flowing gig from a prodigious talent of our generation.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Photo credit: Bruce Baker – you can see more photos from the night HERE