Concert Review: Pokey LaFarge

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Last night Pokey LaFarge and his wonderful band transported me through the ages. He turned a dark and dingy little pubinto a glowing musical oasis with his old-time sounding songs that had the power to enforce a smile on ones face and start a foot-tap it’s impossible to stop. I checked out the singer-songwriter in an intimate gig at Bodega in Wellington and LaFarge was so good, he even made it worth missing half of the Cricket World Cup final.

The St. Louis musician burst on stage with his band kicking things off in a lively fashion with a couple of tracks from his new album Something In The Water. Both Knocking The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight and Underground went down a treat among an audience of big fans, everyone was whooping and moving from the get go.

Straight off the bat Pokey was cracking hilarious jokes and feeding off every comment from an audience member with silly gags that went down a treat. His banter provided a lovely base for the fun and bouncy songs we were set to hear.

The set Pokey LaFarge, real name Andrew Heissler, played last night was a wonderful mix of old and new, slow and upbeat. The well-known foot-stomping tunes like Central Time and Close The Door were show highlights with a real blues and country sound shining through. Every word was echoed as Pokey lead the crowd in an impressively in tune and in time singalong. New album tracks Something In The Water, Goodbye, Barcelona and The Spark showcased his latest direction wonderfully and stood up next to the old favourites. In these tracks he displayed different tones in his voice and mixed up the tempo in a vibrant manner.

Pokey LaFarge’s band deserves a lot of credit for managing to steal everyone’s attention from the compelling front man on regular occasions. Pokey is a star, that’s easy to tell, but what a crew of musicians he has to back him up! The amazing artists who are all true heroes in their instruments, regularly moved me to a mouth-drop, wide-open moment.

Adam Hoskins is a force on the guitar picking the most beautiful solos like he could do it with his eyes closed. Not only that but his low-humming backing vocals gave much needed oomph to some of the songs. Ryan Koenig is the best harmonica player I’ve ever seen on stage, he blew me away every time he lifted it to his lips. Add into the mix his amazing washboard, complete with a silver desk bell and playing gloves, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Joey Glynn’s work on the double bass kept a stylish rhythm. But it doesn’t stop there, TJ Muller on trumpet made me feel like I was living in the 1920s with his blaring solos played with incredible accuracy and Chloe Feoranzo added to that effect with her stunning work on the clarinet and saxophone.

Lets Get Lost, which was sung in a lovely duet with sexy-voiced Feoranzo who finally stepped out of the corner she was hidden in for most of the show, and Far Away gave us a dose of LaFarge’s softer songs without losing the energy he’d built during the feistier offerings.

But by far the highlight of the night was when Pokey LaFarge burst back onstage for an encore. Gone was the rhine-stone bowtie; donned was a Black Caps shirt (buttoned right up) and a batting helmet. The crowd, who had been checking their phones for cricket scores throughout the gig, was enthralled. It was hilarious watching him bound across the stage, swinging a cricket bat and trying to sing into the microphone without getting the helmet caught on it. What a fantastic and thought-out touch.

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Pokey and his crew wrapped things up with a grand version of La La Blues, thankfully featuring another brilliant harmonica solo from Koenig. It was the ultimate way to finish what was an incredible concert.

Pokey LaFarge promised onstage three times that he’d be back in Wellington again next year. I’ll be there and I highly recommend you are too.

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Concert Review: Michael Franti & Spearhead

  

Fan or not, it would be impossible not to love a Michael Franti and Spearhead gig. 

Last night I checked out the rockers at Shed 6 in Wellington. I went along to this gig knowing only a handful of songs but from the moment they strutted on stage with an immense energy I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue. Michael Franti is an outstanding musician. He shines as front man, casting a spell across an already rapturous crowd, he has each member doing exactly as he asks seconds into the first song. 
His sound incorporates a bit of rock, reggae and hip hop, in a unique and compelling way. Second song, Stay Human (all the freaky people), was hilarious. Everyone in the crowd was singing along with stupid grins across their faces as Franti bounced around the stage bursting out the silly lyrics.  
High points included Life Is Better With You, Closer To You and an awesome new song I sadly can’t remember the name of. The fans went nuts for an alive performance of The Sound Of Sunshine, in which big yellow balloons were punted around and fun-levels sky rocketed.
In 11:59 the crowd well and truly lost the plot as Franti jumped down amongst everyone and started one big dance party with his fans. He kindly hugged and hi-fived everyone, sang along with some and even pulled the biggest of fans up onto a platform with him for a few one-on-one boogies. It was great watching and a real testament to how down to earth he was as a performer. How many artists these days would you see do this? (Note: this was only one out of three times he joined the crowd)
  
But this wasn’t just a concert about Franti, the Spearhead gang were just as entertaining on stage. In fact, I found it hard to know which performer to watch at times. They all had an incredible presence on stage and knew just how to play into the audiences hands. J bowman is a force on the guitar, he rocked across the stage at speed never tiring of shaking his head up and down, encouraging singalongs and of course, playing some rousing solos. Bassist Carl Young produced some of the best bass beats I’ve ever encountered and carried them off with a contagious energy and smile. Manas Itiene kept the tempo flowing on the drums and his piercing vocals were a beautiful compliment to Franti’s. I kept thinking throughout the show, what a fantastic team they were. They supported each other with real passion and seemed to be having the time of their lives on stage. 
Franti slowed things down about half way through the set in a poignant moment when he spoke about the illness his 15-year-old son is suffering. The song that followed was a new one written to his son encouraging him to be a fighter – it was chilling. Franti sang it with real emotion and there was barely a whisper as the audience soaked it up. 
I expected that Franti would get a bit preachy during this concert. After all, he is renowned for speaking up on world issues and fighting for peace. Listen to any of the lyrics in his songs and that’s pretty obvious. But I’m pleased to say he didn’t take this too far. This show was about the music spreading his message and that’s what he let it do, without unnecessary commentary in between. 
At the end the group topped things off perfectly with rousing performances of Say Hey and I’m Alive. These were obvious crowd favourites and they didn’t disappoint, the songs were extended out so the crowd could keep singing their favourites lines and Franti made each and every one of us feel like he was thrilled we were there singing along with him. 
My only criticism would be that the show should have finished here. Instead we got another new song and a bizarre dj-set from J Bowman in which he played songs by people like Kid Cudi before ending with Give Peace A Chance. It didn’t work and sadly the crowd fell a bit flat right at the end. 
But despite this, it was a brilliant concert and one I’d very much like to see again. Before last night I wouldn’t have called myself a big fan, but this morning I am. Go to a Michael Franti and Spearhead concert if you ever get the chance, you will be pleased you did. 

Song of the Week – #88

#88 – Lo-Fang

After a bit of a new music binge over the last few weeks, a few tracks have made it onto the regular repeat list.

The song that is getting the most play is #88 by American artist Lo-Fang. The singer-songwriter from Columbia, real name Matthew Jordan Hemerlein, has a sound that’s not something you hear everyday. His tunes really grow on you the more you listen, I think because of the many factors and styles in them.

Lo-Fang’s music is quite an indie-pop sound with electronic augmentations, this is fascinating when you learn that Hemerlein was classically trained. He learnt the violin at just age 5 and spent some years teaching kids to play music – impressive right?

At the beginning of the song you would have no idea of this influence, but as it progresses a beautiful piano melody emerges and a violin bed builds into a chilling solo. This, teamed up with a grungy synth bass line, is a unique and funky sound.

Add to the mix his voice and things are sounding pretty stellar. His vocals are electronically modified in #88 yet still have soft undertones which keep it personal and lets the higher notes shine through.

This is a great tune. Check it out!

Concert Review: Fly My Pretties

The Fly My Pretties women sing Angels
The Fly My Pretties women sing Angels

If anyone were to need an introduction to New Zealand’s best musicians they should head along to a Fly My Pretties show. These performances showcase the best array of sounds in the most special of ways.

I’ve been to a few FMP shows over the years and there is nothing else like them. The general idea is that a number of Kiwi musicians, from an array of genres, come together and play each others songs as a collective. These shows are so special in the way they introduce up and coming artists, showcase new songs from much-loved stars and bring old favourites back into the mix. These gigs bring together the best in the country and seeing what collaborations they’ve come up with each time round is incredibly exciting. Obviously, the result is generally pretty stunning.

Last night, as I watched Fly My Pretties perform at the St James in Wellington I realised, I’ve never seen artists as happy on stage as this crew. They’re alive with energy and look to be having the times of their lives as they belt out a song, play a funky solo or simply just take up the backing vocals.

After their own offering, the musicians proudly introduce the next performer with a sibling-like endearment. They swap instruments and positions on stage with each other like they’re having a jam in someone’s garage, yet at the same time, they own the stage like they’ve done it forever.

This project is the brainchild of Barnaby Weir, best known for his work as front man of the Black Seeds and last night he lead the current 15-piece group in what was an amazing warm-up show before they head to play Byron Bay Bluesfest in April.

Here are my picks for the best moments of the night:

Anna Coddington smashing every song she played. The first song of the set was Bird In Hand. The gang were straight into it with this one and it was spine-tingling stuff. Coddington’s vocals were flawless and the funky bass line, drum beats, piano melodies, violin solo and guitar riffs were rousing. Of course one of the real highlights of the night was Garden, my favourite from FMP’s A Story tour. It’s the most beautiful song and when performed on this scale with so many wonderful musicians, the elements are chilling. Coddington’s vocals flowed perfectly from soft to grunty as the tempo quickened with Ryan Prebble’s brilliant guitar picking, then came Eva Prowse’s violin solo and I was spellbound. Such a magnificent song.

LA Mitchell just being her legendary self. Seriously this woman is amazing, there is something about her that means you can hardly take your eyes off her as she performs. She has the powerhouse voice everyone dreams of having. While singing a note that I think would physically kill me, she looks like she’s barely trying. During I’m Alive In The World the crowd was completely captivated, same again when she led the women in a version of Lisa Tomlin’s Angels and her own song Apple Heart. Each of these tunes were highlights for me last night, LA Mitchell is New Zealand’s soul queen and backed up by such spectacular musicians and singers her songs were clear standouts.

Fly My Pretties. This song went down a treat in Wellington, as it should, it is written about our marvelous city after all. It’s a rather poignant song as it talks about creative musicians needing to leave the city to try and make a few bucks in a bigger place like L.A. But it’s special in that Barnaby Weir sings about how it’s ok to leave, “as long as you come back some day”, something that many Wellington musicians have done.

Ria Hall and Bailey Wiley’s sass. From these gals we got some much needed flare and funk. Hall’s Where Did All My People Go was upbeat, quirky and alive. With backing vocals from all the other women on stage, it had real spine-shiver moments and had me completely captured. Wiley’s After The Tone, provided some RnB feel, with shades of Ladi6, as she moved on stage saucily and sensually while singing with stunning quality.

– Quiet Girl. How awesome to have the Phoenix Foundation’s Samuel Flynn Scott back on stage with the FMP crew. He waltzed around the stage throughout the night in an hilarious manner, with his scarf wrapped around his head in many different forms. That in itself was entertaining but of course it was best when he took centre stage to play Quiet Girl. He epitomized what FMP is all about when he talked about how about 12 years ago he had a half written song he didn’t quite know how to finish, until the guys on stage helped him. And what a song it is, it was an awesome watch and night highlight.

– Ryan Prebble and Kara Gordon – What a formidable force! These guitar geniuses were absolute show stealers last night. Leave This Town was an amazing song from Gordon. His training at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music was obvious during this smashing number. He absolutely killed it in a Hendrix-like manner with Prebble backing him up brilliantly. Prebble’s tune Real Calm, which appropriately was so far from a calm-sounding song, was outstanding. The FMP legend was in fine form as usual last night, dominating every song with his amazing guitar contributions, singing with such grungy passion and just generally looking like he was having the time of his life. Every time Prebble and Gordon played together it was compelling. The two rockers were in fine form.

 Let’s Roll. This song was the Live At Bats song I was waiting for and it didn’t disappoint. Barnaby Weir was in his finest form during this tune. It’s such a catchy song that builds up in the most magnificent fashion throughout. Layer upon layer of electric guitar riffs and drum beats you can’t sit still through meant the rock track was an obvious crowd favourite last night. And how awesome to see Anna Coddington up there rocking out on electric guitar with all the boys.

Thank god for Barnaby Weir having the brains to pull this genius idea together. I can’t believe anyone in the audience last night would have been bored for a moment. Fly My Pretties have done it again.

Cast:

-Samuel Flynn Scott

-Bailey Wiley

-Anna Coddington

-LA Mitchell

-Eva Prowse

-Mel Parsons

-Ria Hall

-Barnaby Weir

-Jarney Murphy

-Kara Gordon

-Iraia Whakamoe

-Mara TK

-Mike Fabulous

-Nigel Patterson

-Ryan Prebble.

Concert Review: The Eagles

Eagles fans flock into Mt Smart Stadium
Eagles fans flock into Mt Smart Stadium
Last night people lucky enough to be at Mt Smart Stadium for the Eagles concert were transported through a magical three-hour music journey.
The songbook for this gig showcased forty years of hits, so the band probably could have played it safe and put on a predictable show and the fans would have still been happy. But I don’t imagine that could ever be the case when Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit get on stage together. Each tune is performed by these brilliant artists with such style, skill and showmanship.
All four are amazing musicians in their own right and I think that’s why their music has stood the test of time. How many bands do you see today who play a variety of songs written by all four members? Each of them has a different sound and they could all put on their own solo shows, yet still they work so beautifully together.
On stage you can see how much they love each others music. You can tell they are thrilled to be working together, even if there have been a few rough patches over the years. All four of them are the stars, and their attitude as you watch them support each other reinforces that.
The concert last night was about telling the history of the Eagles. The players talked us through the years, the ups and downs, the lessons learnt and most importantly, the best music that was made.
Although I thought the gig started off a little slowly, with two relatively unknown songs, Saturday Night and Train Leaves Here This Morning, and the lack of Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit on stage, the tunes told an important part of the story of the Eagles. It took the crowd back to the very beginning when these two weren’t a part of the group. It was wonderful to see Bernie Leadon, an original member of the band, on stage for a number of songs and given the recognition he deserves for his part in their phenomenal success.
Before I knew it the full band was on stage and we were hearing hit after hit. I knew the Eagles had a massive career of number ones but the woman standing behind me put it so perfectly when she exclaimed – “everybody here knows every damn song”. And they did. Every song was a singalong, even if that ‘singing’ often ended up just being people imitating many a guitar solo with high pitched whines.
In the first half I was particularly taken by a brilliant version of Doolin-Dalton and a stunning vocal performance in Witchy Woman. These songs proved, with their high pitched harmonies, that all four members voices are still perfectly in tact, an amazing feat when they’re getting on a bit. Other crowd favourites were Tequila Sunrise, Best of My Love and Peaceful Easy Feeling.
The chills down the spine really started to emerge during the final song before intermission – Take It To The Limit. Frey took on the vocals as if he’d always sung them and blew everyone away. It was a very emotion evoking performance as the sun went down.
But for me, things really came alive in the second half when Joe Walsh started doing his thing. He is easily the best guitarist I’ve seen perform live. In every song with an electric solo he stole the show. I kept finding my mouth would drop open and my hands would raise to my cheeks as I was mesmerised by his ability.
The rocker, who spent some time here in 1989 (in the peak of his drug use) playing with kiwi group Herbs, was a charmer with the crowd. He told us it was great to be back in New Zealand before following it with one hell of a punchline: “I spent a month here one night”.
My favourite moments in the concert came when Walsh lead the group in In The City, singing with a hair raising effect and busting out a guitar solo like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was so overwhelmed I was lost for words for a while. When I got them back I was quick to exclaim that song was one of the best I’ve ever seen in concert.
Walsh also blew me away with a stunning performance of Pretty Maids All In A Row and in his talk-box sessions in Rocky Mountain Way and Funk #49 which made it impossible to keep a smile off your face.
There were many other fun moments like when Frey and Walsh had a guitar solo competition. Both of them leapt around on stage trying to outdo one another. It was hilarious but also a very impressive showcase of their talents. The narratives told between songs kept the story of their history flowing and showed personality. Henley was particularly interesting talking about how lucky they were to have made it this far in life and what it meant to still be performing together. This was a perfect introduction to The Long Run.
Heartache Tonight, I Can’t Tell You Why and Life In The Fast Lane all went down a treat with the crowd. That before they got what they really wanted – Hotel California. This, being the groups most famous song, was always going to be a popular one but when you see it performed like this you can understand why it’s always been the song on everyone’s playlist. The group gave it new life on stage, the vocals from Henley were faultless and the layers of guitar melodies were chilling. When brought together with an almighty electric guitar finale it was a truly spectacular moment.
The show came to a close with a stunning but simplistic Desperado and everyone was left 100% satisfied.
This concert told their history and what an amazing 40 years of work the Eagles have to put on display. In their performance last night – they certainly did every bit of it justice.

Song of the Week – Pretty Maids All In A Row

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Pretty Maids All in a Row – The Eagles

I’m in countdown mode.

In just three days time I will get to see one of the worlds best ever bands in concert – The Eagles.

Their songs are the ones I grew up to, the ones I busted out air guitar to on the dance floor at teenage parties, the ones I sang along to in car trips and the ones I’ve cried to in sadder times.

Whatever the moment. The Eagles have been there. I can’t explain how unjustifiably excited I am to see these legends live.

I remember the first time I watched the Hell Freezes Over live DVD. I was overwhelmed, it was one of the most amazing gigs.

For me, the most special moment in that set came when Joe Walsh lead the group in a rousing rendition of Pretty Maids All In A Row. It was truly magical. That is why that tune is my song of the week. I simply can’t wait for my chance to see it come to life on the stage in front of me on Saturday.

Concert review to come.

Song of the Week – Let It Go

Let It Go – James Bay

Taking the world by storm lately is British singer James Bay. It’s obvious about 30 seconds into any of his songs that he is in for a big future. The gentle-rocker with wonderfully long locks and trademark hipster styles is quickly wracking up a massive following on the internet and getting a tonne of radio airplay ahead of the release of his debut album Chaos and the Calm, due out on the 23rd of this month.

My pick of the pre-released songs from the anticipated album is Let It Go. Really it’s the perfect indie-pop ballad. In this song I have discovered shades of Ben Howard’s guitar playing, a nice taste of Sam Smith’s intense emotion in the vocals and a song-writing style as good as the ever-lasters like James Taylor and Paul McCartney. It’s a winning equation.

But of course Let It Go isn’t just a copycat song, it stands out because James Bay takes all of those factors and still manages to give it his own signature style.

Faultless falsettos are balanced out by gripping lower-pitched croons and a chilling guitar melody played delicately keeps it from becoming just a depressing ballad. This is pop music at its best and I feel certain it’ll be an anthem well-known across New Zealand in a matter of weeks.

You can also catch a beautiful stripped-back version on Burberry Acoustic here: