The sound of crickets and mosquitoes fill the bowels of a darkened Palais Theatre. Two shadowy figures appear from opposite sides of the stage, each carrying a lantern to illuminate their path.

They meet in the middle and shake hands; a gesture far more symbolic than it would otherwise normally suggest.

The darkness fades and standing in the spotlight are two of Australasia’s finest. It’s a boyhood dream, the coming together of a poet from Adelaide and a perfectionist from Te Awamutu, New Zealand.

Paul Kelly. Neil Finn. Sold out. Palais Theatre. Opening night. Nothing better.

Few others have slapped a shovel into the local psyche and dug up what they have. For their collective talents to be mixed across two-and-a-half hours is an irresistible, almost fantastical notion on paper.

Seeing it unravel and flow as eloquently as it does in the flesh is a privilege.

At the heart of Kelly and Finn’s performance is their ability to slip into each other’s works. It’s eerie how natural the interchanges sound. When Kelly sings ‘Into Temptation’ he doesn’t just cover it, he embodies it.

For four-and-a-half minutes, he is the main character that cannot flee the grasp of infidelity; “the guilty get no sleep / in the last hours of morning / experience is cheap / I should’ve listened to the warning / but the cradle is soft and warm.”

Finn is similarly astonishing. His shirt is drenched in perspiration by the time ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ (one of the night’s opening songs) rebounds across the Palais’ near-perfect acoustics.

His emotive rendition of The Messengers’ ‘(You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed’ forces a nearby lady to reach into her bag for a Kleenex or, if not a tissue, discarded serviette. Finn’s delivery, complemented by the slow burn of Kelly’s harmonica, leaves tingles still.

It’s not all sobs and eye-dabbing however. Finn and Kelly are life-long pals and, as such, humour smacks its way in between and during the performances. At one point Finn suggests there should be a tip jar for every one of his so-called “fuck ups.”

Kelly also happily plays up throughout; “when we first did our homework for the shows I had to learn a whole lot of complicated verses and choruses. Neil had to only learn four chords.”

He and the band – including respective offspring Dan Kelly on lead and Elroy Finn on sticks – subsequently rips into ‘Dumb Things’, perhaps Kelly’s most musically adventurous spin.

The crowd – apart from the presence of an unfortunate heckler – reaches into their lungs and yelps their most appreciative cries. A second encore is fitting for their efforts during the marathon show.

Picking individual highlights is like choosing your favorite guinea pig. How does one nominate ‘Distant Sun’ over ‘To Her Door’? ‘Leaps And Bounds’ over ‘Message To My Girl’?

It’s a matter of preference and mood. It would take a careful ear that could listen to their set to intake the nuances and judge accordingly.

Such is the performance, it is easy to neglect the tremendous support from the delicate Lisa Mitchell. She has earned the right to be dissociated from the TV machine that spat her into the public spotlight to begin with. Tracks like “Neopolitan Dreams’, ‘Coin Laundry’, and ‘Spiritus’ are tasty slices of dreamy indie pop.

She also lights up the hall in a flowing red dress.

Even Kelly and Finn, both of whom have been swept up in the wonder of the gig, nearly forget to acknowledge her during the roll call of entourage ‘thank- you’s’. Keep in mind it’s been two-a-half hours of straight playing in addition to being opening night.

“Time for a change,” announces Finn in the stuffy auditorium as last drinks draw near.

Like the Fonz tapping a jukebox, the Palais obliges Finn’s request as flakes of snow float onto stage while Kelly croons ‘Winter Coat’. They later rejoin to end proceedings with Buddy Holly’s ‘Words Of Love’, an understated – yet apt – closer.

To pour on labels like ‘gig of the year’ would undermine the occasion. It was more an experience; a timely reminder that we can never overstate the importance of their influence in every band room and carpeted garage throughout Australia, New Zealand, and beyond.

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