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Aussie shortens the alphabet for 'Mountain Stage'

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage"

With Rich Robinson, Cowboy Junkies, Anais Mitchell and Paul Kelly

WHERE: Culture Center

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Advance tickets sold out. Any available tickets will be at the Culture Center at 5 p.m. Sunday for $25

INFO: www.mountainstage.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Paul Kelly's performance on "Mountain Stage" will be a bit shorter than the Australian singer/songwriter is used to.

"They usually just give us 15 or 20 minutes," he said.

That's just three or four songs, which he said he's always happy to do. He has another kind of show, though, that would take a bit longer than even the whole of a two to two-and-a-half hour "Mountain Stage" taping. He calls it his "A to Z" show. It's 105 of his songs usually performed over four nights -- in alphabetical order.

He estimates, without breaks, it would take around 10 hours or so to complete the list.

"We've never done it all in one day," Kelly said and laughed. "I haven't tried it -- and I don't think I will."

However, he and his band have pulled it off in two nights before.

"Well, in the States, we usually do the 50 songs in two nights," he said. "And they're kind of sped up for American audiences. But we do get through the alphabet."

The question, of course, is why?

"I've asked myself that, too," Kelly joked, but explained that the origins of the concert go back to 2004 when the Australian was booked for four nights in the Spiegeltent at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

A Spiegeltent is a traveling performance hall made of wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass. Originally used in the late 19th and 20th centuries at fairs and festivals in towns that didn't have an appropriate performance hall, they can seat 300 to 400 people and are often used nowadays for cabaret-style shows.

With his four nights in the Spiegeltent, Kelly was asked to do something interesting. After a night of soul searching, he came up with the A to Z shows, which he performed once or twice a year from then on.

"It set up audience expectations in a different way," he said. "It also put me in touch with a lot of my songs, which had been neglected for no good reason other than they didn't fit into the usual 75- to 90-minute set."

Keeping all the songs straight wasn't easy at first but, eventually, they were all burned back into his memory. The once or twice a year series became a more regular gimmick. Kelly did variations of the A to Z shows at different festivals around the world.

"We recorded those shows," he explained. "Eventually, we got around to making a record and knew we couldn't fit all of this on one disc."

Instead, Kelly released an 8 CD box set, "The A-Z Recordings," which includes a book called "How To Make Gravy," which is a collection of photos and liner notes about the songs. The notes are taken from some of the stories Kelly tells on stage between songs.

With a 105 of them (which he says is now more like 150), he has a lot to say. For example, "Dumb Things," one of Kelly's few songs to break into the American pop charts was featured in several movies, among them "Look Who's Talking" and "Young Einstein," a film written and directed by Australian actor and filmmaker Yahoo Serious.

Kelly said, "We wrote the song in 1986 or 1987. It was one of about 14 songs we just recorded one day in the studio. At the time, Yahoo Serious was looking at songs for his movie and we sent him off the demo.

"He rang back and said he liked it and was going to use it in his movie."

Kelly and the band were excited to hear their song was going to be in the movie and told Serious they planned to record the demo properly for him to use. Serious told him, "No. You don't understand. I'm using the one you did. I've already cut it into the scene."

Serious eventually moved the song to a different scene in the film, and Kelly's band had to re-cut the track anyway.

"But I always wanted the song to be slower," he said.

So live, with just Kelly and a guitar, he slows it down.

Kelly said he is looking forward to visiting "Mountain Stage," even if he only gets three or four songs.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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