Bill Murray is a renowned enigma. He is a hero to many and one of the most intriguing personalities in show-business.
I’ve been a fan of the man since I first saw him in Ghostbusters so when I found out that he was touring Australia, I was halfway through searching for tickets before I realised he was being joined by classical cellist, Jan Vogler. At once I was excited, intrigued and slightly confused. Regardless of this reaction, being such a big fan, I felt that this was a one-off opportunity to see the man in the flesh do, well, whatever it is a Bill Murray does when he isn’t busting ghosts, filming arty movies or stealing fans’ lunches and telling them “no one will ever believe you”.
What the night ahead had in store for us though was far more bizarre and wonderful than we could have ever imagined or hoped for.
As the lights of the QPAC Concert Hall dim a doorway to the left of the stage opens and a blinding spotlight is beamed from within. A familiar drawl is heard throughout the venues speakers ‘Good evening, I’m Jan Vogler’. Clearly this was Bill, and he goes on to tell everyone to turn off their mobile phones and get all their coughing done before the show starts. Soon after, Bill is escorted on stage by Violinist Mira Wang on one arm and pianist Vanessa Perez on the other while cellist Jan Vogler follows soon after to an eruption of applause.
The show itself is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or been exposed to and was a much welcome change from the usual loud metal gigs we tend to cover for Everblack. For two hours we are taken on a journey through classic American culture, music and literature with readings from Twain, Whitman, Hemingway and other authors and poets and, as this was conceived as a celebration of the connections between song, the spoken word and culture, he is often accompanied by his three musician friends playing often obscure, routinely avant garde pieces as Murray effects different authors and accents to give characters depth and scope.
Early on, while setting a scene of Franz Schubert’s deathbed for the next piece, Murray says that at this point most in the audience start wondering what they signed up for.
He then assured us that “the worst is over” and says “if you feel like leaving, now is the time”. Nobody takes the opportunity and they’d be glad they didn’t for the what follows. The show is just getting started.
Some would argue that Bill Murray isn’t the greatest vocalist in town and I would be inclined to agree with you. But his occasionally off-key delivery imparts something endearingly powerful when he’s given the chance to flex his considerable pipes. Covers of George Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, and Tom Waits’ offbeat ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)’ are punctuated by occasional tender and moving moments like the group’s rendition of ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’ and Henry Mancini’s ‘Moonriver’ following a reading from Huckleberry Finn. These are all cleverly weaved together having been funneled through the eclectic, creative minds of Murray and his unlikely (and supremely talented) pals.
There are moments throughout the show where the musicians take over and Bill retreats to his seat behind the piano. During these moments you see him sitting there tapping his feet and fingers fully immersing himself in the music, unwittingly showing a side of Murray we are never usually allowed access. A man with a true passion for art outside his own craft and something he obviously feels he needs to share with others.
The show draws to a close with an outstanding cover of Bruce Hornsby’s ‘That’s Just The Way It Is’ and a West Side Story medley of ‘I Feel Pretty’ – delivered with all the flair of a Broadway production – and ‘America’ and the following encore features Murray running through the crowd dispersing a bouquet of roses to anyone who would have one, be they on the balcony or in the stalls. What a guy!
There is one question to ask at the conclusion of such an idiosyncratic, concoction of a performance that we have witnessed here tonight: Could anyone else have done it? Personally, I can’t think of anyone with that level of swagger and confidence who would dare. Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, Mira Wang and Vanessa Perez, I eagerly await whatever happens next because, much like everything that transpired at QPAC tonight, we can be sure it will be a wonderful surprise.