#34 Stellar*, Tuning Fork

9 March 2018


Stellar* for me are part of the year I married Kate, back in 2000. We'd just bought our flash stereo system, pride of place in our Huntly Avenue flat, one we kept alive until just recently. That year the Mix album was on regular play, Violent and Part of Me were constant and welcome earworms - not that they were a soundtrack to our marriage. I remember also the following year seeing the unmistakable Boh Runga with her reddest of red hair at Christchurch Airport after we'd had a week of hiking in Arthur's Pass, and thinking cool, a pop star!

Lexxa opened. Twin sisters, Maude and Julia  with infectious enthusiasm performing mainly their own pop originals. Their songs are a mix of Katy Perry and Amy Shark in style, written from the reflections of teenage years. Highlight for me was a catchy and heartfelt song for the socially awkward - 'Should I give up? I think so much. I run out of words and I don't know what to say.'  Fun, energetic performance, they perhaps just need to settle on a comfortable vocal range. The Auckland crowd gave them their due, a warm reception and good wishes. 


No red hair anymore, but no matter. Stellar opened with Slow Burn, and a cheer came up for the classic riff from Chris van de Geer. And by god Boh has a vocal range to be proud of. 

They produced their driving rhythm with overriding electric guitars throughout. It's about the drive, the pop rock band sound and the totally cool vocal lead. 

While they wrestled with a few sound issues Kurt indulged in some self-deprecating kiwi humour. 'We just hoped that by playing nothing new you'd finally like our third album...  Is anyone here from overseas? See, that's the problem!' 

What's not to love? 


#33 Delaney Davidson, Golden Dawn

6 March 2018


A hot Tuesday night in early March, on the back of our hottest summer on record and our wettest February.

There's 18 days to go before Golden Dawn closes its doors, but not too late for another unexpected discovery. The support act, Motte, was a complete unknown for me, and altogether captivating with a solo mix of looped violin, synth and vocals. Ethereal and other worldly, carefully composed and unpretentious. Meditative and unsettling, drawing a huge breadth of sounds and sensations from a violin used to its full extent. 

Delaney Davidson performed with SJD to open the main act, with a new number, Shining Day, along with Such a Loser. The two combine well, but Davidson is consummate as a solo performer. Looping riffs, rhythms, harmonica, vocals over, through and in and out of each other in some pulsating driving tracks that  capture you and drag you into their groove. 

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He delivers a string of relentlessly driving modern blues numbers that to all intents and purposes sound like he has a band with him, rather than delivered solo. Such is both his musicality and the power of a looper used well.

He finishes the night with Don't Let the Devil Fill you up with Doubt, and implores the audience to "keep doing whatever you're doing and keep pushing fucking hard as if your life depended on it, coz it does."

#32 My Baby, Whammy Bar

2 March 2018

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Left Eden Park with five minutes to go and the Blues trailing the Chiefs by six points. My departure didn't create the winning try and the Blues continue to disappoint, as they have for some years now.

But My Baby were the perfect antidote to the perennial frustration that is watching the Blues. Caught a taxi ahead of the departing crowd and made it to Whammy a few minutes before the band came on.

My friend Glyn sent word out from his Blenheim home that these were not to be missed. Crikey that man chooses his bulletins well.

It was tightly packed and as hot as a Turkish sauna in Whammy, but no matter, it all added to the energy.

My Baby are a Dutch/New Zealand trio performing dance music that combines roots, funk and a psychedelic bluesy sound, but one that is never laid back. It's high energy from beginning to end and the space never stopped moving.

It was one of those "I couldn't name a single track and I have no idea what they're on about but dammit I'm glad to have been there" evenings.

And another souvenir CD collected, even though the CD player finally gave up the ghost this week. Still a memory worth holding on to.

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#31 The National, Villa Maria

25 February 2018


High on a hill in a hidden vineyard in the Mangere industrial estate, on a blanket with a picnic and a glass of wine. It's bliss even before the music starts. First gig I can recall when a heron flies above the crowd during the main act. 

"I like a gig I can recline for" said Kate early in the gig as we watched from our vantage point. 

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Tiny Ruins opened. It's a difficult setting for Holly Fulbrook's quiet, gentle harmonies, but as the act unfolded it filled more and more of the venue. Cass Basil confided it was her first ever gig in sunglasses - "I feel like a rock star!" Holly and Cass are heading to the US to chase some bigger fish, and they deserve a wider appreciation beyond these shores. 

The National have a brooding yet full sound that works well in an open air setting.  Matt Berninger's resonant bass vocals maintain a self-possessed intensity throughout the concert, which occasionally he takes right into the crowd, much to their delight. Alongside the vocals, Aaron and Bryce Dessners' guitar work creates a constant counterpoint and provides an anthemic quality, a bit like The Edge in U2 but with it's own quality. For one thing, The Edge to my knowledge never put a violin bow on a guitar. 

In some respects this reminds me of Leonard Cohen's last concert at the Arena, where he was alone with a mike telling stories of life, performing with a crew at the peak of their game. This was just brought forward at least two decades and supercharged for the ride. 

Guilty Party was one of the highlights for me, a song of resignation and regret with the horns rhythmically adding to the mournful edge. Up there also were Empire Line and Bloodbuzz Ohio, the three of them creating a near permanent rotate on Spotify for the past few days. 

For the last song, Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks, the microphone is turned to the 5,000 strong crowd who then sing it in its entirety, accompanied by a sole guitar and all the band singing with them.

It was definitely a concert for the history books - one of the best of the last six months.


#24-30 Laneway 2018, Albert Park

29 January 2018

#24 DD Dumbo

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“Hi, my name’s Jacinda…” said the Prime Minister as she opened Laneway 2018. Recounting her DJ session at a past Laneway she said “I remember that so well because I have permanent hearing damage through my left ear as a consequence and it was amazing to be a part of a festival that is so intrinsically Auckland, so wonderful."

I still pinch myself that we have a PM that opens Laneway, walks at Pride, and is having a baby mid-year. This feels like one cool country to be part of right now.

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And then the PM welcomed DD Dumbo on the stage. Which was a surprise because the programme said Julie Byrne who I’d been following on Laneway playlist. But actually DD Dumbo were well worth seeing – cool tenor vocals from Oliver Perry, not unlike Sting’s, but with a lot more groove going on. And when I posted a pic of the clarinettist on Facebook, one friend came back with the comment “Bass clarinet? RESPECT!”

It’s a scorching Auckland summer’s day that is out of the box. Endless sunshine but with a breeze that takes away the worst of the heat, and plenty of shady patches. The Albert Park precinct offers stages for such a grand array of acts that there will inevitably be some bands who I just can’t see, or at least see sufficiently long enough to include in the 52 gig list.

#25 Amy Shark


So if you halved my age, it would probably still be older than the average age of those watching Amy Shark. But no matter. She’s got some great numbers, with Spits on Girls as a standout with dark, haunting lyrics – “My mother likes the drink and my father’s always thinking of her… If you like your life, stay off the drugs, if you like the drugs, share them with celebrities.”

Shark offers edgier than average pop, with some parallels with Lorde and a bit of rhythm guitar thrown in. She has a warm yet intense presence on stage and an open rapport with the crowd, that creates an atmosphere of mutual appreciation.

By this time the sun is at its zenith and if you’re not in the first two metres in front of the stage you’re getting roasted. Around this time the entry queues had mushroomed, and some were taking more than an hour to get in. It made me glad to have got there among the early arrivals and catching the first acts.

#26 Sylvan Esso


I checked out Billie Eilsih, it was more catchy pop and even more in the Lorde mould, but dressed in yellow. But after a couple of songs I decided I’d heard enough and grabbed a beer and a good possie to catch Sylvan Esso.

Now this was a freakin revelation. The duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are described by one reviewer as delivering coolly beautiful electronic music – yep, and then some. The crowd loved them, and danced away in the heat to songs like Coffee, HSKT, Radio, Die Young and Hey Mami.

Amelia apologised at the start of the show for a cold that she had picked up on the flight over. But halfway through the set, she decided that “I like this cold, it's one of those colds where you sound sexier than you actually are!”

It’s gratifying to know that delicate, soulful, captivating and catchy originality is possible even in some of the most redneck of Southern states, in this case North Carolina. Perhaps conscious of this, Nick closed the set by saying “Shout out to your amazing Prime Minister - you've seen how bad it can be, right?”

#27 Wolf Alice


Heading into the late afternoon, it’s starting to cool a little, and another revelation. One of those sets where you stand back and be blasted for 40 glorious minutes. Thrashy gothic anthems delivered in a gorgeous summer frock by their lead vocalist Ellie Rowsell, accompanied by the high-energy-throw-your­-guitar-in-the-air Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey. Full throttle guitar pop, a bit like the Primitives but with a lot more juice.

#28 Aldous Harding


Back in December I gave away my tickets for the Aldous Harding show at the Civic, deciding that a party to celebrate the Lightpath cycleway was more my thing. I’d been dosing myself heavily on her two albums, but appreciation kept passing me by. The first felt like faux Irish tweedledee, and the second was just… quiet, melancholy and well, boring. I realise that for many that makes me a deeply unpatriotic New Zealander.

So I went to her performance thinking that maybe, just maybe, I would realise the error of my ways and understand what all the fuss is about.


Still don’t get it. Yes, moody, heartfelt, self-absorbed and absorbing in her own way. Yes, original and intense. But not my scene. I gave it my best shot, and like a good New Zealander, I genuinely wish her every success.


#29 Badbadnotgood


I largely missed what one reviewer described as perhaps ʺthe best Laneway set yetʺ. Anderson Paak was serving a blistering hip hop set that had thousands in front of the band rotunda in raptures – I only caught a glimpse for a short while but was too far from the stage to connect, and I needed to kick back for a bit.

Badbadnotgood are a jazz influenced instrumental band, with lots to like. Their show was a good place to recharge ahead of the evening acts. There was a large crowd building who grooved happily. Getting closer to the stage I realised they were pretty young looking guys but who were well on top of their game.

#30 Slowdive


Slowdive re-formed recently after a 20-year hiatus, with an album that had critics enthralled. Dusk was coming on fast, and the light of the evening surrounding the stage created effects that the camera hated but the eyes loved.

Theirs was a fine set, with a guitar-led cascading sound that showed its origins in the 90s, but which have developed into a something that relates to this millennium. Star Roving was a triumph, and the layering of sound was absorbing from beginning to end.

And that was pretty much where Laneway ended for me. I caught some of the War on Drugs, but after a few songs I realised I would have just been adding another number to the list, and it was time to head home.

2019? I’ll be back for sure.

#23 Ravens, Aotea Square

25 January 2018


Aotea Square is set up with a full stage, deck chairs, food court and a bar, all part of Summer in the Square. It's a balmy summer evening as New Zealand basks in record summer temperatures, and the deck chairs are pretty much all gone by 7.

Ravens are billed as folk punk, and they're an occasional ensemble of Reb Fountain from Auckland, Alice Ryan Williams from Takaka and Jessie Shanks from Lyttelton. All three have played extensively with The Eastern, which remains on my go-to list.

They play a mixture of hard edged bluesy folk and country numbers, all originals, with Reb on guitar and drums, Alice on violin and Jessie on guitar and banjo. I'm always impressed by artists like Reb Fountain who can lead a show in their own right, then slip effortlessly in as an equal partner in a group like Ravens. All three star in their own right and in their own vocal styles.

It was one of those gigs where if you don't know the songs themselves, you get a pretty good sense of what they're about with reverberant song lines, like 'She just wants a man to bring the good wood home', 'Round the bend', 'The lights of the harbour send me right back' and 'It ain't so.' All gorgeously crafted, yet with an underlying motif of tough lives lived. There's a captivating session recorded in 2016 on RNZ that can be accessed here.

A brief, bittersweet yet blissful performance, one that I'm very happy for my rates to have contributed to. People don't often say this, but thanks Auckland Council.

#22 Audrey's Dance and Boycrush, Golden Dawn

5 January 2018


So Tristan, the drummer from Blackbird Ensemble who I met at the Carnivorous Plant Society gig, recommended that I try out Audrey's Dance. They're a synth pop group inspired by Kraftwerk, and includes Finn Scholes and Cass Basil, who I've now seen in four different acts each. I'm really enjoying the cross-fertilisation that is so apparent across Auckland's band scene, everyone seems to have each other's back.

Having seen them at a few shows now, Finn and Cass are a study in contrasts. In his own vehicles, Finn plays the multi talented lead to perfection, alternating within each song between trumpet, keyboard and glockenspiel, telling stories and taking the crowd to a grand night out. Cass, at every show I've seen her in, is the rock, the one in the group who radiates a calm 'I've got this', and all the while grooving to every track and keeping everything in her own state of grace.

Boycrush is the vehicle of Alistair Deverick, who drums with CPS and produced their latest album. Where Audrey's Dance offers a complex and diverse array of songs, Boycrush is totally at the pop end of the indie spectrum. His songs, with alternating lead vocalists,  bring out the dance party goers, who bop away to every track. Chelsea Jade in particular brought massive energy to the show, matching Finn with a bar top solo.


One of the cool things about the age we're in is that so many musical styles have a place, and in a place like Auckland it's easy to find pretty much any of them. 

#21 Carnivorous Plant Society, The Wine Cellar

21 December 2017


I'm beginning to love the shabby intimacy of the Wine Cellar. It's got an easy feel to it where whatever happens has a good heart, and a good beverage of any description is not hard to find. 

I was having a chat with a guy called Tristan ahead of the gig. The conversation turned (OK, steered would be a better word, and yes, by me), towards the 52 gigs challenge, and he asked what have been the highlights so far. Top of my list was Blackbird Ensemble, which he was quite chuffed to hear, as it turns out he is their drummer.

I came across CPS at the 2016 Others Way festival, and left the show with both of their CDs. Tonight was the unofficial launch of their third album, The New King. I left with that too, and a t-shirt that will be treasured for some time. 


No support act tonight, it was all about the main act. CPS is the vehicle of Finn Scholes. I never quite clicked that this was the same guy playing with Hopetoun Brown and the same guy doing keyboards with Reb Fountain and that perhaps he might be more than a little bit talented.


Tonight he was steering the ship, playing glockenspiel, trumpet, keyboards and tuba. And with him were a fine collection of musicians, with Cass Basil on bass, Tam Scholes on guitar, Alistair Deverick on drums, and Siobhanne Thompson on violin, vocals, and a tiny little French horn or something (perhaps I should have asked). And the guest musicians were out of the box, including Hollie Fullbrook, Hopetoun Brown, Matthew Crawley and Finn's dad, Jeff Scholes (who recited the poetry in songs like the Honeybee). 

The first piece, Swamp Bossa, was quite upbeat and catchy, and quite a contrast to the sinister and often sombre tracks of their first two albums, many of which made me think of Ennio Morricone tripping out when he was supposed to be doing the soundtrack to A Fistful of Dollars. 


But what I never realised from the first performance that I went to - which, typical of Others Way performances, was all about getting through as many pieces as possible in a short period of time - is that every song is the soundtrack to an animated film made by Finn, each of which tells an eerily surreal story. Like Temple Kiss, (if I recall rightly) about an angel who takes a guy to a beautiful place, only for him to have to leave, get depressed and die; or Journey of the Sacred Crystal, about a doomed expedition of GI Joe characters to steal a supernatural artefact.

Yes, the show certainly had that sense of being a bit out there, but I found it totally captivating and absorbing. His films have a Chris Knox feel, but with a narrative and enigmatic intensity all of their own. 

For the last gig of 2017, the year finished on a real high. The full album launch is scheduled for March, and on tonight's performance I'll happily return.

#20 Angus and Julia Stone, The Civic

15 December 2017


Upstairs at the Civic, it's been a few years since I have had the panoramic view of the theatre in all its charm. And a packed house brings with it a sense of anticipation that its opulence intensifies. 

The night before the gig I thought I would just be seeing Voiceclub this week, but then the birthday angel delivered us two tickets to Angus and Julia Stone. So I spent today on Spotify getting to know them better and by 5 o'clock I was pretty damn grateful to Linda and Mia for the tickets. 

The Teskey Brothers opened, with a set that was both original and straight out of Motown. They're seriously accomplished musicians blending soul and blues, and the crowd were well and truly warmed up by the end of their set.

I'm beginning to think that there is something about New Zealand audiences that genuinely takes an interest in the support acts, certainly the Teskeys were well pleased with the reception in their first performance here (much like Garrett Cato at the Frazey Ford show, only magnified by a factor of 30). 

Angus and Julia Stone make me think that Emmylou Harris and Paul Kelly got together and went all indie. There's a bit of folk and alt-country and with some complex layering going on as well. The show was captivating from beginning to end. A good chunk of the songs were from the latest Snow album, but this wasn't one of those occasions where everyone wants the old stuff. Snow is such a compelling album, any song off it is a treat. Chateau, Cellar Door, Nothing Else and My House Your House were all delivered to a welcoming audience, along with the older songs like Heart Beats Slow and Big Jet Plane (a love song Angus wrote to a girl who picked him up hitchhiking to a festival). 

Snow concluded the main performance, and Santa Monica Dream brought down the curtain. 

Given that just over a day earlier I had no idea about the show, or if I'm honest the two siblings, the Friday night became one to treasure. 

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#19 Voiceclub, Auckland Town Hall

14 December 2017

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Voiceclub are always worth a listen, for the unashamedly pop arrangements that David Tillinghast crafts, for the exuberance of the performances, for the fun of every night, and for the knowledge that every one of their gigs benefits music in low decile schools.  

Tonight was their biggest performance venue to date, at the Auckland Town Hall. When they've performed at the Concert Chamber next door, they've raised the roof and made a real party, but the Town Hall was perhaps just a little too big, and their sound was a bit lost.

Still, tonight's theme was love, and David creates cool, catchy and captivating arrangements whatever the theme or the venue. Springsteen's Because the Night was an early stand out, along with a (more than) worthy rendition of the best New Zealand pop song ever, Not Given Lightly.

Support acts were aplenty; Chord 5 got the crowd moving with Rock the Boat, and sweet  harmonies with Run to You. Kate Wood and the Voxpop Singers provided some superb moments, especially Back in Black, Fall at Your Feet and Nature Boy. Oh all right, Somebody to Love was fab, and I don’t even like Queen. 

Glenbrae and Bairds primary schools made the most of the opportunity to perform and had a warm response from the crowd. 

But Voiceclub were the lead act and if anything I would have liked to have heard more from them. Special moments were their performances of Only You, How Deep is Your Love, and Make You Feel my Love. But then with my love of some 28 years in Voiceclub, perhaps I'm a little biased. 

#18 Shayne Carter, The Wine Cellar

8 December 2017


It's interesting walking along K'Rd on a Friday night in summer. It's warm and lots of people are out for a night on the town. These days K'Rd is brimming with offerings; Lebanese, Malaysian and Indian have been there for years, and the cheap food halls remain, but now joined by the a new range of cheap eats, like Moustache cookies, Pie Piper and the ethically branded Lord of the Fries. St Kevin's Arcade has had a facelift, and there's a new sheen to the recycled clothing shops. The sleazy precinct is now confined to half a block and a few random buildings.

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Funky restaurants like Coco's and Gemayze St are defining a new more cosmopolitan and more than just a little bit hipster era for K'Rd. 

And yet, there's a bit of an edge still there. I passed one bar where a drunk was trying to pick a fight over an ashtray. A homeless guy walked through St Kevin's muttering about something sinister. It's a street that is still in transition and its history isn't far below the surface. 


Back at the Wine Cellar for a gig. Hermione Johnson delivered the opening act, performing a conceptual piece with two keyboards. I have to say I didn't get it. Her set felt to me like a blend of Bach, Jean-Michel Jarre and atonal elements fused into a single composition which spanned some 30 minutes. 

I probably should have left the "I don't get it" thought bubbling in my head, but towards the end of the performance I was joined by a former colleague and her friend. It must be said we did spend a bit of time talking about just how much we didn't get it, with one view that it was the soundtrack to her anxiety. Unfortunately Hermione was nearby and heard, and came up to us, said "sorry" and headed out of the performance space.


Not my proudest moment. It's her art, and not getting it is my problem.

Then came Shayne Carter. I really struggle to describe Carter's sound, so I asked my nephew, Chris. He texted "it's dark, brooding, usually long driving sounds but not ashamed to draw on pop, funk and soul influences. Like if James Brown got taught guitar by Jimi Hendrix then was sent to live in a cold house in Dunedin for a couple of decades." 

Yeah, what he said.

In a small space packed with followers, Carter delivered a fast paced gig that had everyone moving, with the exception of the piano-based tracks that provided a reflective counterpoint. He never seems to purse his lips in concentration, he puckers them and revels in the showman role. That cold room in a Dunedin flat spawned a genius.



#17 Paul Kelly, The Civic

1 December 2017

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This was one of those 'wouldn't it be great if he played...' nights, and one where he pretty much did. There's something about established performers who are over 60 who just keep on playing - thinking not just of Paul Kelly, but also Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen in recent years in Auckland. Maybe it's that they're so on top of their game that a long set is effortless, maybe it's when you're at the tail end of a tour you want to go out on a high, or maybe it's just living life to the full.

Whatever the reason, Paul Kelly and the band delivered a completely absorbing concert from beginning to end, in a set that ran for two and half magical hours. He drew on his latest album, Life is Fine, along with albums from across the years - Post, Under the Sun, Gossip, So Much Water, Hidden Things, Wanted Man and Deeper Water to name a few. It was an evening of fresh indulgence and a host of memories springing to life, knitted together by a longstanding crew, including Peter Luscombe on drums, Greg Walker on guitar, and Linda and Vika Bull on backing and lead vocals, and in a generational shift, his nephew Dan Kelly, on guitar.


And there's always something special about a gig at the Civic, with its nightsky ceiling, and the faux opulence of a Raj-inspired era. It just needs a mosh pit for those of us that want to get moving.

Vika and Linda Bull were mesmerising to watch and to hear. All the grace, harmony, movement and rhythm of the Webb sisters when they supported Leonard Cohen, and the rich and powerful soul of Etta James and Billie Holiday. Vika singing Sweet Guy, a song written by Paul Kelly from the perspective of a woman in a violent relationship, carried enduring passion and anger that completely recasts the original recordings.

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Songs fresh out of Life is Fine, his first number one album, received a warm reception, especially Finally Something Good, and Vika's savage bluesy lead on My Man's Got a Cold.

As for the songs that carried memories? Dumb Things and Before Too Long blaring across the hallway in the Williamson Ave student flat... Everything's Turning to White playing at the Power Station back in 89... humming Careless as I walked the Orongorongo track...From St Kilda and the decade long wait before we finally visited that one sweet promenade... Love Never Runs on Time and Song from the Sixteenth Floor filling the Kelburn flat after Kate and I moved in together, and crammed in at the Victoria University student union to hear Kelly play Wanted Man... singing To her Door on the deck at Whangapoua and discovering in Sydney that Silver Top are a Melbourne taxi company... hearing Deeper Water for the first time at a friend's flat in London, and today still determined to prove it's not telling our story.

In centuries gone by, Paul Kelly would have been a wandering troubador, singing stories of the people he came across. His songs evoke not just memories but also images, narratives and compassion, and he takes the listener on a journey through the eyes of others. Gravy, the final song ahead of the encore, remains captivating and searching, and epitomises his slice of time storytelling that remains unresolved but often hopeful. 

And finally, a shoutout to The Eastern. We had one of those moments when you walk in to the tail end of the support act and wish you'd heard more of them. Next time I'll seek them out in their own right. 


#16 Frazey Ford, Tuning Fork

21 November 2017


"OK, let's be old" said one half of a couple heading for the Stevie Nicks concert at Spark Arena. I have to say that made me feel good about going to see Frazey Ford play next door at the Tuning Fork. 

Ford was a founder of the Be Good Tanyas, a sweet Canadian folk-country trio that gathered a following in the early 2000s. But Frazey Ford has been carving a solo career since the release of Obadiah in 2010, and tonight was all about her own repertoire. 

She has a mournful voice with a rich bluesy country twang that sings of hurt, suffering and heartbreak, "including several from this year alone." But no amount of pain and loss could dim the enthusiasm of the crowd tonight, who devoured every morsel in an extended show. 

The show opened with Garrett Cato, a Canadian-Japanese singer songwriter, who performed a series of finely crafted solo acoustic songs. He seemed genuinely taken aback by the warmth and attention of the early arrivals at the show. 

Cato was a perfect warm-up for the main act, and Ford delivered on expectations. She balanced absorption and passion in each of her songs with an easy conversational rapport with the crowd, especially a group who had flown up from Dunedin for the show. 


She gave the crowd plenty of favourites like Blue Streak Mama, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, and Bird of Paradise, along with a string of brand new songs that felt like we were sampling a preview of a soon-to-be-released wine vintage. When the crowd clamoured for Firecracker, she happily obliged, although not before giving a quick heads-up on the road map to a surprised band, and then needing a reminder from her followers on one section of lyrics. But the crowd loved her willingness to deliver, and one weak spot couldn't dampen the enjoyment of an evening, where in Auckland, summer was well and truly arriving.

Funny how memory plays tricks. I was going through my Spotify collection to check what songs were played and I could have sworn Lovers in a Dangerous Time was one of them, but apparently not according to three friends who were also there.

#15 Lawrence Arabia, Golden Dawn

15 November 2017


Another gig at another venue with an uncertain future. The King's Arms may one day be an apartment block, and Golden Dawn is closing in a few months' time.

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So it feels just that little bit more important to get to a gig there tonight before it becomes another memory. 

At the Others Way festival, Lawrence Arabia wore a green shalwar kameez, tonight it's something more out of the K-Mart catalogue in a pink jumpsuit. And tonight it's just the man himself, performing solo and selling the best tea towel ever. 

In the tightly packed intimacy of a small venue, he traverses songs from across his albums. It seems these days that a solo act is not complete without a looper, and he deploys this well to create layers of vocal harmony, rhythm and multiple instruments. And damn he's talented. 

He brings many qualities to his songs, a mix of wry, vulnerable, self conscious, cutting, honest and funny, often all mixed in the same track.  


Lawrence gets a warm reception and the crowd are happy to oblige his request to provide rhythmic interplay through clapping and vocals - although apparently a Tauranga reviewer compared him to Nazi leaders for trying it out there. 

It's an engaging evening from someone with a fine array of talents and whose own originality shines through in every track. 

#14 Blackbird Ensemble, Q Theatre

11 November 2017


A performance by Blackbird Ensemble redefines the word captivating. The ensemble's creator, Claire Cowan, skilfully combines music, theatre and art, along with orchestral and pop styles, to create performances that draw you in and entrance from beginning to end. 

Their tribute to Björk, titled All is Full of Love, typified the breathtaking vision of the Ensemble. The show was utterly absorbing, and required neither a knowledge nor an admiration of Björk to leave feeling as if one had been given a very precious moment to savour.


The performance was as stunning visually as it was musically, with each song truly mesmerising. Songs were performed by up to 14 musicians on the stage at any one time, with instruments including harpsichord, synths, harp, strings, saxophone, drums, percussion and electronica. The performers were dressed in white, bearing designs that each honoured Björk's sartorial uniqueness - from something resembling a giant squid (Callum on sax) to Princess Leia meets Kendo warrior (Anna on vocals). 

All four vocalists - Sarah Belkner, Jessie Cassin, Anna Coddington and Teeks - brought their individual styles, and merged seamlessly with the show as a whole. Sarah with her theatrical expression, Jessie with her searing vocal range, Anna with her dynamic musicality, and Teeks with his soulful deep vocals that brought an R&B edge.

The performance was all the more impressive given their first full rehearsal as a group was only a week ago. The audience variously gasped and cheered at their performances, and the standing ovation at the end of the show was the least we could offer in return.

Blackbird Ensemble is a rare gem in New Zealand's music and art emporium. I hope that they get all the support they need to keep them on our shores in the years to come. 


#13 Mel Parsons and Greg Johnson, The Tuning Fork

10 November 2017

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Three months ago the Tuning Fork and I had never met, now it feels like we're old friends. Which is just as well, as I knew feck all others there. No wait, I did spot the specialist who is going to remove a minor skin cancer in ten days' time, but it didn't seem quite the place to strike up a 'remember me?' conversation.

I was keen to come to this gig when immediately after Reb Fountain's show here, they played Far Away on the sound system afterwards; I shazamed it as it had been bugging me for ages who sung that really cool song. Oh, that's Mel Parsons! I told you I needed to get out more.

Greg Johnson I knew, Here Comes the Caviar is one of my favourite albums. And I'd never seen him live, so tonight had promise written all over it.


Mel Parsons kicked off shortly after I arrived (perhaps they told her, it's OK the 52 gigs guy is here now - or maybe not). 

She delivered a finely crafted performance of country songs, for the most part from her Drylands album. Some stand outs were You Go Without me, Non Communicado, Friend and Get Out Alive. A sublime rendition of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game was followed by Wish me Well, with Greg on trumpet, towards the end of the set. After a fine set comprising just guitars and drums, it's striking the layer of texture that the addition of a trumpet suddenly makes. 

Halfway through her set, Mel gave a shout out to Sarah the AirBnB owner in the audience, who promptly went apeshit, danced unaccompanied and screamed as if she'd been kissed by Elvis. This prompts an audience member nearby to call out 'close the tax loophole!' Meanwhile, Sarah's friends decide that anytime, any song is a good time to have a nice SHOUTY CONVERSATION ABOUT ALL KINDS OF SHIT. 

Mel has a powerful, soulful voice to accompany country numbers that are a mix of cool and catchy. She immediately built a warm rapport with the crowd, full of that slightly self-deprecating humour that always goes down well with New Zealanders.  Accompanied by Jed Parsons on drums  and Josh Logan on guitar and bass, it was a strong and engaging performance. Unless you were Sarah's friends in which case WASN'T IT GREAT THAT SHE GOT THE SHOUT OUT! 


Greg came out for the second set, working with Ted Brown on guitar, and joined by Josh and Jed as well, and performed tracks from across his career. Don't Wait Another Day and First You Save Yourself made me happy, and Head and Heart made me gladly buy his latest EP afterwards. 

Midway through the second set, someone called Chrissy came up and told me she'd been seeing the photos I've been taking on my phone, and they're way better than hers, and her daughter is in Bali and loves Greg Johnson, and will be really jealous that I'm here and could I send her a couple? So she gave me her email address and asked what sort of phone I've got. 

"It's a Samsung" I say, in a way that secretly says Ha! iPhones suck! "What's yours?" 

"It's a Samsung too, it's just taking shit photos tonight." 

Oh. Never mind.

Then Mel comes back on for the last few numbers. On RNZ on Friday Greg was evasive about his age but suggested it might be hovering somewhere around my own. That was a prelude to a live performance of Isabel, written before either Mel or Josh were even born. Delivered at the Tuning Fork with Mel on backing vocals, it's a sweet track that has aged well. This is followed by Don't Wait, where Greg joins in the lead, and the set finishes on an audience-pumping Far Away. 

The encore concluded with a well-chosen Stop Dragging my Heart Around - at which point I had to admit Tom Petty knew a trick or two.  

All up, an evening of promise that was delivered on in spades.

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#12 The Doubtful Sounds, Wine Cellar

3 November 2017


Under the Radar alerted me to the Doubtful Sounds gig, so I checked out their website. I'm impressed with any band whose website has their entire catalogue of recordings. I was taken in straight away by Fell in Love, which is straight out of the Sneaky Feelings style, not to mention carrying something of Don McGlashan - and for me bringing the two together is a grand thing in any pop song.

And the Wine Cellar was the perfect venue for a laid back evening of sweet sounds, enlived by a sense of hope that the new political landscape is bringing. It was to be fair pretty much the main topic of conversation between Paddy, Linda and me as we headed to K'Rd - that and what's a guy gotta do to get a park around here (take a bus!)?

First up we were treated to Little Wave, a collaboration of Matt Cawte and Jan Goldie, playing three originals and a cover. We were there only just in time to hear Under Golden Skies and Hold Your Arms Around Me, both enough to make me keen to hear their forthcoming debut album. Although a work in progress, they gave us a fine blend of soft melodies and gentle harmonies to ease into the evening.

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And then Kent Mori took the stage. His was a superb acoustic guitar performance, with breathtaking deployment of a looper to add layers of melodies and backing rhythm, all generated live from the one guitar. Worth the admission fee alone, and I will be seeking him out again.

The Doubtful Sounds performed a mix of songs off their first two albums (the red and blue ones), as well as some new ones off their forthcoming yellow album. A standout for me was 3:22, named after the length of the perfect pop song. There's indeed something to be said about 'books about music' - and anyone who loves Matthew Bannister's Positively George Street as much as I do is definitely in my good books. 

Matt Cawte and James Noble deliver an upbeat jangly style, with a cheerful lift and catchy rhythms. But James in particular weaves some darker forces into songs like Red Sky and Lighthousekeeping. They own what they do, and they do it with heart.


#11 Justin Townes Earle and the Sadies, The Tuning Fork

12 October 2017


Heading into tonight's gig, I had expectations raised just a tad by my friend Robin who had been to the same show on the previous night. "It was the best small-venue show of the year...  Never smiled so much on an evening this year. Pure joy." 

Problem was, between Justin Townes Earle and the Sadies, I couldn't name a single song they performed. So I thought, yeah well, should be good at any rate. 

Sweet Jesus. What a night. 

I still can't name a song - no wait, Harlem River Blues, last song of the night. Courtesy of Simon, who knew a few at least. 

But crikey, I'd go back to see both in a heartbeat. 

The Sadies opened, and they belted out a series of alt-country numbers with a driving rhythm that made me think they were the love children of Hank Marvin and the Undertones. Or not. But fiendishly, obsessively, unnervingly good.


Then they returned as the backing band for Justin Townes Earle. As he said, "you could go all round the world looking for a backing band and you wouldn't find these guys, and I tell ya, I ain't done shit."  

JTE had a more laid back, country and blues feel, both heartfelt and hilarious. But borne of seeing and knowing the scars, real and hidden, that people carry in their lives." Don't ask an addict what's wrong with you, ask why are you hurting?"

Never had a better night of music I'd never heard. Bliss. 

#10 Yumi Zouma, Darkroom

28 September 2017

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The darkroom is an unassuming venue, tucked away down St Asaph Street and looking like a local Caledonian Society hall, complete with concrete blocks as its major building material. Inside, it's got ceilings lower than your average 1930s bungalow, with a stage the size of two double beds, and yeah, it's pretty dark. But the staff are friendly, and there's a great vibe. And a week after the election, the note on the blackboard drily acknowledged the political uncertainty of the coming weeks.

It's a venue Yumi Zouma are loyal to, as it provides an all-important rehearsal space. This we learned from Christie's parents, who joined a supportive crowd to wish them well on their next overseas tour.

The band of Christie, Charlie, Josh and Sam were joined by their newest member Olivia, on drums. And they had a warm and vocal reception from the Christchurch followers who joined on a fecking cold September night.

I was in town for a social enterprise conference. As one speaker said, it was 1500 people in a room who wake up in the morning thinking about how they can make the world a better place. So there was a nice fit with getting to the concert that evening.


Yumi Zouma have a sweet synth-pop sound that is catchy and compelling. Their songs have you one minute swaying gently to a quiet melody, and the next bouncing to a quick rhythm, all mixed with their signature polyphonics. They took us through a procession of established tunes including The Brae, Keep it Close to Me, Barricade, Alena, and Yesterday. These were mixed with new songs like December and Persephone from their latest album, Willowbank.

I'd like to say I saw them before they were really famous and things went intergalactic, and I do hope that's how it works out. But actually, no matter what direction their future takes, on its own merits, tonight was one to remember. 

#9 The Real Group, Bruce Mason Theatre

24 September 2017

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The Real Group delivered a sublime performance in Takapuna on a warm spring afternoon. The Scandinavian quintet's concert spanned beautiful renditions of jazz classics like Nat King Cole's Nature Boy and Bill Evans' Waltz for Debbie, through to triumphant pop anthems like George Michael's Freedom, along with many original compositions. These were mixed with some hilarious songs that still underscore their vocal range, like a country number about a sexist boss, and a semi-improv about two tomatoes going to an Iron Maiden concert. 

The Real Group - Emma, Anders, Morten, Lisa and Janis - blend vocal harmonies, beat box rhythms, and clever use of looping to produce an absorbing, delicate and stirring a capella performance. Their performance on RNZ ahead of the concert is worth catching to hear their captivating harmonies and rhythms, and the approaches they take to their music.

For me, the highlights were a haunting and soaring arrangement of a Latvian folk song (yes, really) called Dark is the Night / Green is the Grass, and the delicate and original I'll Help you Home.

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Their Sunday concert was the culmination of a week long Voco festival, where they performed and shared their knowledge and techniques in a series of workshops. I saw first hand their very generous approach at an open rehearsal earlier in the week, where Next Offramp, the vocal group that I've been part of for the past eight years, had a 30-minute slot to learn from them. We performed Slow Jam (believe it or not, a cycle safety campaign song from the UK). I was as nervous as I have been at any gig ever, but they were encouraging, supportive and helped us refine our technique further - and made us feel pretty damn good about ourselves. 

Then a few days later, we performed alongside six other groups at a Saturday festival show. We were the last act on before the Real Group, performing Missy Higgins' Secret and Christina Parri's Jar of Hearts. It would be technically true to say that I can carry opening for the Real Group to my grave.

With sincere and grateful thanks to the Stellar Singers who organised the festival, and invited us to take part. An absolute privilege.

... And with further thanks to the Stellar Singers who supplied the image above.