Concert Review: Angus and Julia Stone

Angus and Julia Stone play Auckland's Civic Theatre
Angus and Julia Stone play Auckland’s Civic Theatre

Last night I went to see Australian brother-sister duo Angus and Julia Stone play at the Civic Theatre in Auckland. It was such a polished show I couldn’t fault it. The pair had made their way to New Zealand for their first show across the ditch. Something the audience made clear they were pleased had finally happened with regular backhanded compliments commending them for eventually getting here. I’m pleased to say it was a gig worth waiting for.

The folk-rock pair have recently released a new self-titled album together after breaking up for a while and each producing solo records. The time apart has grown them both as artists. This is the first album in which they have written most of the songs together and it’s brilliant. During their set last night their new songs were the standouts. The way they work together in these tunes is so fresh and funky, the sound is so much stronger when they sing together rather than just backing one another. This was evident in A Heartbreak and From the Stalls. Each of these offerings was performed with a magnificent energy which had me perching on my seat grinning and tapping my feet.

The dream-team supported each other beautifully. I’m sure a lot of that comes from being siblings. They had such a lovely dynamic on stage. They teased each other, laughed with the audience, took a step back and listened and appreciated each other’s sound and looked genuinely so proud of each other. In Yellow Brick Road Julia let Angus own his song, a real crowd favourite, before picking up the electric guitar at the climax of the tune and amazing us all with a stellar solo. We also saw this in reverse when a crowd requested to hear The Wedding Song was listened to. Julia asked Angus not to desert her as he left the stage, but she didn’t need him and he knew it. She owned this song, she sang with such clarity and showcased the beautiful lyrics. Ben Edgar’s lap steel solo was chilling. It was a stunning moment in the show.

In the middle of the set came a fantastic cover of You’re the One That I Want from Grease. It was a slowed down, stripped back take on the jazzy classic but was still just as sexy as Olivia Newton-John’s take thanks to Julia’s sensual dance moves and the variance in her vocal tones.

Julia won me over. Before the concert I’d said to friends that I thought Angus was the real star of the duo. I thought Julia’s very unique baby-voice wasn’t always necessary in some songs, in fact I thought it almost invaded some times. Boy was I wrong. She took to the stage with so much sass and was easily the star of the show. She stood out next to Angus who is obviously shy and slinked back on stage a lot, letting his sister take control of the audience. But don’t get me wrong, Angus was still incredibly compelling as a performer.

The culmination of their show was during their last three songs when their vocals sent a chill across the room. The set was finished with Heart Beats Slow, a lovely track from the new album which features verses in which the siblings take turns singing a line each before coming together in the chorus. Julia takes the higher harmony while Angus smoothly carries the undertone.

After being rapturously applauded back on stage for an encore Julia thanked the band for their stunning contributions. She played particular tribute to the new drummer who has really added something fresh to their sound with his creative beats. The percussion was such a key part to the show and really stood out as it was accompanied with a fantastic light show in many tracks.

The group began their encore with a cover of The Nationals Bloodbuzz Ohio which was full of beautiful harmonies before going out on Santa Monica Dream. The band left Angus and Julia to it on their own and within seconds they had everyone in the crowd silenced (and I think many close to tears ). They sang a soft but passionate version of the song from their Down The Way album. It was simply magical and I never wanted it to finish. I wanted to curl up in a blanket and have them sing it over and over again until I fell asleep. The ultimate lullaby.

At the end of that the audience was straight on their feet for a standing ovation you’d rarely witness these days. We were all completely sold, these guys better stay true to their promise and return to New Zealand soon because that was a concert too good to not relive.

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Boy and Bear Brings Bodega to Life

Boy and Bear live at Bodega, Wellington.
Boy and Bear live at Bodega, Wellington.

Last night I headed along to Bodega to check out Australian indie rock-folk band Boy and Bear. These boys took over the place as soon as they walked on stage, they were charming performers with a stunning grasp on how to make good music and the crowd was sucked right in.

Boy and Bear plays a wonderful mix of sounds with perfection. The first section of their performance really showcased their rock sound. Tracks like Bridges and Rabbit Song had the dingy Bodega reverberating with a newfound energy. With impressive bass lines, intensive drum beats and twanging electric guitar the songs came alive on stage and for I second I forgot about the folk influence I usually associate with the group.

But that was soon fixed with tracks like Milk and Sticks and Harlequin Dream. In songs such as this, front man Dave Hosking shone. He was a confident performer, something I didn’t expect after reading an article that said he gets nervous on stage. His interaction with the audience was so refreshingly modest it made me smile the whole way through and I wished I was one of the lucky few right near the front of stage. He laughed about how close the crowd was to him as he talked to them in breaks between songs and even use ones phone to take a video of the band on stage during a song.

The group seemed ever so humble, they were obviously happy to be getting such a great response and it was really cool to see them acknowledge that without the arrogance we get from many artists these days.

The other element to their show was the softer more vocal focused songs. I had plenty of ‘close your eyes and soak it in’ moments during songs like A Moment’s Grace and Lordy May. The banjo came out, the tempo was slowed down and the group sang exquisitely. When all five of them sing together it has a chilling effect. The different tones in each of their voices compliment each other perfectly. It’s a real joy to hear five men sing in unison and Boy and Bear do it unbelievably well. When teamed up with their rock and folk influenced tracks and captivating lyrics it creates such a compelling sound.

Their magic is made even better thanks to electric guitarist Killian Gavin. What are already great songs become brilliant songs thanks to his fresh riffs and jaw-dropping blues-influence. Three Headed Woman took on a new life as Gavin busted out a grungy and energetic solo. When layered with harmonies it was truly glorious.

The lead single off their latest album Harlequin Dream was an obvious crowd favourite. As the band cranked into Southern Sun there wasn’t a face in the room without a smile on it. Everyone was clapping, dancing and singing along to the catchy folk tune.

But the real climax of the show came right in the middle of their set when they played their well-known cover of Crowded House anthem Fall At Your Feet. It was sung beautifully with a magnificent use of silence, pace and rhythm. Hosking’s vocals shone on their own only to be backed up with a spine-tingling quality when the others harmonized with him in the chorus. The song would’ve been an easy highlight of the concert on its own but the band managed to go one better when they unexpectedly but smoothly mashed it up with Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. They did it so elegantly that I think half the people in the crowd didn’t even realise the song had changed for an entire verse. It was genius.

Boy and Bear went out with a bang finishing with one of their first hits Feeding Line before taking on the softer track Big Man. It was the perfect finish to a fantastic gig to have a fast-paced rock song followed by a slowed-down more “sentimental” song as Hosking described it. Big Man was performed with a real passion which spread right across the crowd, it was a magic moment to finish on.

This band is yet to really crack the Kiwi music scene but I am confident in saying they aren’t far off. They’ve got all the star qualities and they know how to use them. A superb gig from Boy and Bear.

Song of the Week – Someone Will

Rhob Cunningham
Rhob Cunningham

Someone Will – Rhob Cunningham

I’ve got another thing to thank James Vincent McMorrow for and that’s introducing me to his friend, Irish musician Rhob Cunningham. This guy is a very talented chap!

A quick google search tells me Mr Cunningham hails from Dublin and currently lives in Berlin, he’s just written a new album called The Window and Day. To put it simply, it’s just lovely.

McMorrow recommended on his Facebook page to check out his song Someone Will because it’s his favourite on the record and makes him “cry every time”. After one listen I can see why. What a stimulating, heart felt accoustic ballad this is.

The song bursts right into two lines of high falsetto which is quickly contrasted by a lower, softer and folky vocal from Cunningham. Right from the get go you know what you’re going to get in the song and I love that. The choruses return to that same high pitched tone and even though it is such a simple transition it works as a stunning difference to the more subtle verses.

Cunningham is backed only by an accoustic guitar and soft use of a double bass and flute. His vocals are so simple sometimes they sound like he’s almost talking, but that’s a quality I love. During the verses his voice reminds me of Marcus Mumford but not as raw, while the chorus echoes the popular sound of his mate Mr McMorrow and other artists who dominate the falsetto sound like Justin Vernon.

His cause was also helped when a quick google of Rhob Cunningham lead me to his personality-filled website. This guy sounds like an hilarious man who I’d love to meet. Take his online bio for example:

“third person paragraph*

*he’s sorry that he hasn’t updated his bio recently.

rhob is a musician,
you could say he was from dublin

He’s happy with
the songs he writes,
though some aren’t rightly
happy songs.

He’s pretty darned proud of the Our Little Secrets album and he’s looking forward to releasing that there oft whispered solo album.

If he could go back in time he would tell his teenage self to look after his teeth
’cause this one at the back is a goner now.”

Comic genius right?

This song is going to be on regular repeat for me along with the rest of his album. What a discovery!

You can listen to his offerings on the Soundcloud link below or purchase the record on Bandcamp. Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/#rhobcunningham/someone-will

Song of the Week – When I Leave

jvmcmblack

When I Leave – James Vincent McMorrow.

I can’t get this song off repeat. It’s got so much funk, soul and depth. James Vincent McMorrow can do no wrong in my eyes currently.

He released When I Leave just over a week ago. It was recorded while on tour around the world, bits were put to track in the back room of his tour bus and on the floor of festival dressing rooms. He posted the link to it on his Facebook page, describing it as “not polished”, but I would call it “well polished”. This song doesn’t need anything added to it if you ask me, it’s already superbly written, performed and produced.

This song transforms in its five minutes. It takes on many different shapes, all of which somehow manage to sound cohesive and perfectly logical. I love every different element equally and can’t get enough of the journey McMorrow takes you on in this track.

The introduction, with a simple drum beat and a repeated vocal scale, captures your attention immediately. He has such a magical voice that with an electronica undertone, at this point in the song you’ve already got a winning combination for a fantastic tune. But of course, there’s more to come. The track is layered up with effects galore in the chorus, only to be stripped back again to a raw, subtle but powerful verse. 

McMorrow’s trademark falsetto vocals are on full show in the chorus which increases in crescendo as different musical elements explode together, until it makes you want to throw your arms in the air and move them in slow motion.

Then comes the bridge. Wow. McMorrow simply repeats the words “when I leave” while an almost techno synth sound is repeated, his voice is soon distorted to sound harsher, the words are sped up, the pitch is lifted and you find yourself waiting for an almighty drop in what has become a layered mash up of sounds similar to works by James Blake. But instead of a drum and bass style drop, a bouncy melody is introduced over top to slow down the song again and finish in the same style we heard at the beginning.

The song goes full circle like a movie drama, with an introduction, a developing story, a climax and plateau to finish. It’s a winning combination on all levels.

Somebody get this man to New Zealand already, I must see him live!