Jessica Mauboy

with Miss Murphy

The air is thick with the scent of Aeroguard, hot chips and tanbark. Every square inch of comfortable grass is layered with picnic rugs. The kid-friendly admission has meant that any leftover space is filled with children chasing each other or dancing, sometimes both. One family I watch have prepared solidly for this night, bringing whole cakes and salads in a gigantic Esky. Thankfully, Melbourne has blessed this gig with a night that is not wracked by disgusting unlivable humidity - this is a nice turn-up.

The Melbourne Zoo’s Twilight Concerts are quite the night out. It makes a nice change from sticky-carpeted pubs and fire-trap rock and roll dungeons. Support act Miss Murphy fills the air with her heartening, pleasing soul voice, including a majestic cover of Aretha Franklin’s '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman'. Murphy is a brilliant support for Mauboy, putting everyone in a soul-r’n’b mood without wearing us out too early on. Gorgeous.

As the sun starts to fully disappear and the sky becomes a tremendous picture of azure darkness, Jessica Mauboy takes to the stage. A full live band behind her, Mauboy rocks the stage early on and shows off her impressive showmanship with a live voice to rival scores of others. The 24 year-old has already racked a bunch of awards and a couple of choice film roles, as well a being a mentor to fledgling artists on The Voice.

She opens with 'Up/Down' from her 2008 debut album, Been Waiting. Her first set- for, as you will find out, Mauboy and Co. perform several differently-vibed sets to correlate with the changing styles of her music- makes us feel a bit out of place, since much of her music is club-style pop-r’n’b, and we are sitting on soft grass amongst lions and guinea fowl. But the atmosphere is superb and people are already up and dancing.

Through the swaggering 'Burn', 'Let Me Be Me' and 'Running Back', Mauboy seems bursting with appreciation and joy for her adoring crowd and the feeling of Good Times abounds. With a yell of “This is a song about shoes!”, Mauboy launches into the Snoop Dogg-penned 'Get ‘Em Girls' (which, to me, is far better than the only other shoe-song-plug I know; Nelly’s shameless 'Air Force Ones'). Throbbing r’n’b giving the crowd an excuse to shimmy-shake but presumably confusing the lions.

Mauboy exits and re-enters the stage with her guitarist in tow to perform an acoustic set. I knew in my heart what at least two of the songs would be and I was well excited to hear them, and she did not disappoint. She opened her ‘unplugged’ set with the cover that made me famous , seemingly eons ago, on Australian Idol- Whitney Houston’s 'I Have Nothing'. By the time she wrapped up her second cover- Cyndi Lauper’s 'Time After Time', my mighty heart was breaking. Sumptuous vocals sailing in the night air...I had wanted her to belt a little more for the Whitney track, because I know she can, but, hey, it’s not Christmas.

Another quick break and Mauboy graces the stage in the most beautiful black sequin halter jumpsuit I have ever seen and I die a little. This is the set dedicated to the Motown-soul she performed effortlessly as Julie McCrae in The Sapphires. If people were in two minds about dancing before, their minds were made up by now. Opening with the Smokey Robinson ballad, 'Who’s Loving You', Mauboy descends into a haze of soul-belting and mad dancing, with synchronized back-up singers in full support. Motown classics like 'Through the Grapevine', '(I Can’t Help Myself) Sugar Pie Honey Bunch' and the just-too-fabulous 'Land of 1000 Dances' gives rise to pockets of madly dancing folk and sing-alongs. Mauboy’s belting is amped up, and the joy is permeable.

Although Mauboy’s between-song banter seems friendly but unsure, she is a malleable performer who, even after the rollercoaster of her other sets, busts out the real ‘club bangers’ for her final numbers. Good timing, too- the sun is gone, glow sticks abound (I don’t think there was a stall for them but there were a lot of them!) and
'Beautiful' from Mauboy’s latest album of the same name made some of the punters put down their chips and ice-creams and dance under a sky littered with bats and stars. Although Ludacris could not join in, 'Saturday Night' was a whole mess of fun regardless.

A young, talented Australian woman putting on a diverse and entertaining show amongst roaring lions and pottering mynah birds. What more could you ask for?*

*Slightly cheaper food. I would ask for that. But that’s it.
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