Paul Kelly is one sneaky fellow. The Australian writes songs so full of disarming hooks and simple, direct observations that you can be caught off guard by the power of his music (well-stitched tapestries of "Highway 61" Dylan wildness and early Beatles bop) and the homiletic profundity of such lines as "If drinking is the problem, drink a little less" (from the sampler-ready "Little Decisions").
And so it was Saturday at Club Lingerie on the first of two nights for Kelly and his solid, seasoned band, the Messengers. Kelly at first seemed a stiff, taciturn performer, but his alternately confessional and sympathetic tone (Kelly's ability to write from a female perspective is rivaled among males by only Graham Parker) soon had the audience in his confidence.
Sneakiest of all, though, was how after about 80 minutes--when the show reached what seemed to be its peak with the pounding, self-purging "Dumb Things"--Kelly and crew managed to build the intensity even further with a series of neatly-crafted yet still primal rockers. Then this wiry welterweight delivered a knock-out punch with a new, unrecorded slow-dance romance "The Most Wanted Man in the World"--a perfect song for George Jones. Floats like a butterfly. . . .