10 November 2017
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.