Sol3 Mio are Star Performers

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This morning I’m awfully tired. I struggled to sleep last night but not because of your typical insomnia causes, but because I couldn’t shake the spine-tingling sensation I picked up at the Sol3 Mio concert.

The opera trio played Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena last night in an encore show after their first gig at the Michael Fowler Centre sold out and received rave reviews. Last night I learnt why.

These Kiwi boys, originally hailing from Samoa, are a star act. Not only can they sing opera anthems like Nessun Dorma, The Prayer and Nella Fantasia so beautifully you want to cry but they can normalise opera music and make it more accessible to the masses. They achieve this with their humour. You wouldn’t think opera would work well alongside a comedy act but Sol3 Mio pull this off with their witty gags which are on show not only between songs but mid song. Sometimes they are even written into the arrangements of certain songs.

It’s PG humour, simple yet fun. The most contagious thing about it is you know the brothers, Pene and Amitai and their cousin Moses Mackay, are having the time of their life up there just being together, doing what they love and having a laugh. I would kill to have footage of the audiences facial expressions throughout the show. Pene described it as an emotional rollercoaster at one point and he was spot on. Never before have I been listening to a passionate, beautifully sung aria with tears welling up in my eyes only to then laugh my head off as the Sol3 Mio boys turn the song ‘sexy’ or simply look at each other with a proud smile and a classic Samoan giggle.

The trio last night chose a stunning selection of songs to perform, it catered perfectly to their mixed audience of all ages. They had the opera classics down pat and to a superb quality showcasing their extensive training. Pene had cleverly arranged songs to cater for their voices which is a tricky task given he and his brother are both tenors. But it wasn’t only opera you got last night, in the mix were lots of old favourites including a lovely rendition of Hallelujah, Ten Guitars which was performed like a comedy skit in which they pretended to sing it in Italian but actually just put a silly twang on each word and The Rose which was emotionally dedicated to their mothers.

It was a fantastic feeling to be a part of an audience which the performers so obviously appreciated and respected. While a lot of the trios jokes made fun of the people sitting in front of them it was done in a fun, lighthearted manner. It almost made me wish they were going to single me out in the crowd next when normally I’d be shrinking in my seat in such situations. They took on West Side Story’s Maria and sang it wonderfully as a dedication to not only the Maria’s in the audience but also the Marie’s, Margaret’s and Malcolm’s. When Pene trilled “I just met a girl named Margarita” laughter echoed raucously throughout the arena.

Audience participation was a key part of the show. The crowd sang along to the Sound of Music’s Edelweiss, given the task of out-singing every other concert crowd in their nation-wide tour. It was a touching moment hearing a crowd of thousands singalong (and actually in tune!) to such a moving song, very different to every other concert singalong I’ve taken part in which has mostly consisted of screaming.

Everyone was sad when the show was to come to an end but Pene kept saying “we’re going out with a bang” and that’s exactly what they did. The trio put on a stunning performance of We Are Samoa, a song which means a lot to them as a group of which you could certainly tell. Then the final number, Neapolitan classic ‘O Sole Mio brought back the shiver-in-your-seat effect as their voices roused an excitement and sense of awe in the crowd once again.

Go out and buy their album and be sure to head along and see them next time they’re touring because this trio is one to watch. Sol3 Mio have a whole heap of talent and pizzazz to go with it. They’re a superb act and deserve international credit.

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Song of the Week – The Moon Song

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The Moon Song – Karen O and Ezra Koenig

Last week I went to see Spike Jonze’s Her. It was a brilliant movie, full of great acting but perfected with a load of wonderful music.

I was mostly excited because Arcade Fire has written the score. It was beautiful and flowed so perfectly with the story line. But the highlight was to come in a pivotal scene in the film in which The Moon Song came to life.

Firstly what a combination of artists. I saw The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Vampire Weekend play one after the other at Gold Coast Big Day Out in 2013 and both acts blew my mind but never did I imagine the two lead singers would join forces!

I may be surprised but man I’m pleased. Their tones work wonderfully together in this soft but soulful tune. The pairs voices are a wonderful compliment to each other when united. It’s a lovely change to hear the lighter tones in Karen O’s powerhouse rock voice and to hear Ezra Koenig sing at a slower pace with more dulcet tones. (Also a bonus to be able to understand the lyrics he’s singing).

As much as I love each artist in their normal setting, I’m so glad Karen O teamed up with Koenig to make this song what it is.

It’s a lovely piece and I can’t stop listening to it so I recommend you put it on repeat, turn it up loud and settle in to enjoy it in all its glory.

John Farnham a legend, Lionel Richie a diva

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John Farnham performs at the Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth.

Last night New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands played host to an 80s flashback with rocker John Farnham and soul legend Lionel Richie taking the stage.

The Naki turned it on with the most beautiful autumn evening, the sky aglow with the mountain out in all its glory. The natural amphitheatre was packed to nearly full capacity with fans, either dedicated to one or both singers, old and young ready to dance – and that’s exactly what they did. Whether it was to the fist pumping singalongs with Farnham or the side-stepping foot taps of Richie there was barely a still person in the audience.

But the show wasn’t about the dancing, people came for the music and with two very different singers taking to the stage there was a clear star performer in my eye – John Farnham.

The Australian legend is a class act. His voice is still faultless. He played the perfect set of songs to showcase his work over the years and there was never a dull moment as he proved to the crowd between songs that he’s also a bit of a comedian. He had a tale for every tune. It was much to the delight of the crowd that the perfect weather held its ground after Farnham proudly declared he’s been nicknamed ‘the rain man’ because every time he performs Talk of the Town it starts to pelt down. It was a result to which he yelled at the audience what quickly became his trademark line ‘shuuuuuuuut up!’

Farnham has the crowd on fire, hits Touch of Paradise, Pressure Down and That’s Freedom were rowdy singalongs, before came a beautiful rendition of Man of the Hour –made even more beautiful with the help of backing singer Lindsay Field whose vocal range was mind blowing. Then it was time for everyone to get on their feet as he finished his set with mega hit You’re the Voice, sung with rousing energy and passion. Farnham was back for a much sought after encore to which his fantastic band and he brought to life ACDC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top – what a finish to a brilliant performance.

Next came headline act Lionel Richie and I just wasn’t sold.

Sure he is more of a chart topper than Farnham and the crowd knew more of his songs but he was well and truly outshone by the performer leading him. Richie can sing, and he was at his best while sitting at the piano taking on his softer ballads but to be frank, I found his entire set boring. It’ll get better I kept telling myself, but it didn’t. Even when the five-time grammy winner played Easy, a song I love, I was left uninspired. There wasn’t the same passion we’d seen in the previous act. It was simply lacklustre.

Then came Richie’s attitude, to which many people in the crowd were left with a  foul taste in their mouth. In comparison to Farnham’s fun loving, crowd focused show, Richie came across as an arrogant performer who’s too big for his boots.

He began his set by insulting the weather saying it was freezing and how could this be summer. Sure that’s fair enough I thought, he does come from California after all. But he didn’t need to harp on about it regularly throughout the show, it ended up sounding like he thought he was too good to be there. It riled people up even more given the fact he’d been a real diva and chosen to only fly into New Plymouth at 8pm that evening therefore missing out on the beautiful day Taranaki had turned on for him. But insulting the weather Taranakians are so proud of was only the beginning. Throughout the rest of the set it was all about him. Never mind the thousands of people who’ve payed to come and see him play, it was all me, me, me. I got sick of hearing about how great he thinks he is very quickly.

Enough complaining, I’m sure the fans got what they came for at least. He played all the hits, All Night Long was a toe-tapper, Dancing on the Ceiling and a rendition of We Are the World were crowd favourites.

Overall, it was a great way to spend a night out in New Plymouth but I could have left happy after the first act. I want more of Farnham. He really does live up to his nickname of ‘the Voice’ and I recommend you get along to see him perform some time.

Song of the Week – Everyday People

Everyday People – Arrested Development

It’s time for a 90s flashback. On Sunday night I headed along to WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) at New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands. What an event as usual, even a cyclone couldn’t deter the crowds. The biggest of which flocked into the natural amphitheater main stage to check out hip-hoppers Arrested Development.

The old school rappers had people up on their feet dancing and echoing chants within minutes. The energy was electric. They played a perfect mix of new songs and old favourites but it didn’t matter if you knew them or not – the audience was included in every song.

These guys may be a hip-hop group but boy-oh-boy can they sing as well as rap. Lead rapper/singer Speech nailed every note and wowed the audience with a stunning rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song to finish the set. Tasha Larae has a powerhouse voice, she belted out notes that had everyone screaming with excitement because they seemed almost impossible to hit so perfectly. Montsho Eshe made sure there was never a dull moment on stage dancing around like a mad thing the entire performance, I could hardly take my eyes off her she grooved so hard yet she still perfectly delivered every backing vocal.

It was a memorable gig with the obvious highlight being Everyday People. Everyone in the crowd new every word to this song and the singalong reached new heights. What a jam. I can’t get it out of my head so it HAD to be this weeks song of the week. Enjoy.

Song of the Week – Cavalier

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Cavalier – James Vincent McMorrow.

Currently I can’t get enough of the Irish musician’s tunes. Particularly the material on his latest album released this year Post Tropical. The tracks come across as a folky sounding combination of Bon Iver and James Blake’s works. It’s a bold and clever move away from his last album Early in the Morning which was cute, easy listening but nothing particularly mind blowing. This album takes on a more alternative electronica sound which is suited magnificently to McMorrow’s powerful voice. He shines in this new genre and Cavalier, the first release off the album is testament to that more than any other track.

It’s hauntingly beautiful with a great build up in pace throughout. The vocals are faultless with chilling falsetto’s contrasted beautifully alongside the backing brass section which grows in presence throughout the song. The lyrics take on a poetic quality while still telling a clear story which helps one to connect with the soul of the song more easily.

“I remember how cloth hung

flexing with the forest clung

Half waist and high raised arms

kicking at the slightest form

I remember my first love”

This is a big track which marks the beginning of a great new movement for McMorrow. I highly recommend you add it to your playlist. I am already waiting with anticipation to hear more like it.

Eminem: The Real Slim Shady

Today has felt a little empty without Slim Shady standing up in front of me.

Excuse the terrible use of Without Me references but it’s a bit hard to not want to incorporate Eminem into everything I do after that magnificent show last night.

This weekend Western Springs was packed out with 50,000 plus people all dead keen to finally see the hip hop star live in action on our shores. And I feel confident he wouldn’t have let a single soul in that audience down.

Eminem taught me, along with plenty more 90s teen who listened to far too much Westlife, to love rap music. He was always ahead of the pack, creating music different to what we knew before and that’s never changed. That fact became particularly evident last night when his earliest hits such as the Real Slim Shady and Stan were still as relevant today as they were all those years ago when they first hit the airwaves. In fact, perhaps even more relevant.

The gig was a spectacle, I think the sheer number of people in the crowd made that obvious, spectator numbers didn’t dwindle even when not one but two big name back up acts, Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future didn’t make it to the event. Everyone was there to see the Real Slim Shady and that’s exactly what they got.

Despite it taking 15 years for the rap legend to make it to little New Zealand, he didn’t perform like a has been. His act was fresh, filtered with crowd rousing new songs like Rap God and pop hit Monster while the oldies were done in medley form meaning no favourite jam was missed out and the crowd could attempt their best imitation, rapping every word as if they were the first they ever spoke.

It was a pure joy to hear oldies Like Toy Soliders, Sing for the Moment and Stan with their chilling choruses enchanting the crowd. Then came a great song to finish the set, Afraid. The audience stepped into its echo role and belting out every word of the chorus and Slim, despite dripping with sweat, rapped with as much energy as the start of the set. It was brilliant.

But the gig wasn’t anything until the final encore and everyone in the crowd knew what was coming: Lose Yourself. The song everyone hears play at every party, on every road trip and in every pub across the country made for the ultimate rap battle. It was a hilariously awesome moment of coming together with everyone singing to their acquaintances beside them, both old and new, with an infectious enthusiasm. That is one moment I will never forget.

In an hour and a half long set with almost 30 songs played there was no loss in energy from the 41-year-old, real name Marshall Mathers. It was everything I’d dreamed of as a child while listening to his music secretly in my bedroom with my brother, quickly switching the radio off when mum came to check if we were asleep.

Last night I well and truly lost myself.

Come back rap god, I reckon there are 55,000 Kiwis ready to see you again, and we’re not keen to wait another 15 years to witness such a concert once more.

The Big Day Out Revival

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Snoop Dogg plays the Big Day Out Auckland.

I awoke this morning too tired to move, calf muscles aching with music ringing in my ears and immediately a massive grin made its way across my face.

Big Day Out NZ is back, and back with a vengeance.

I headed along to Western Springs in Auckland yesterday to check out the festivals return after a year off. It felt like a new event. A change in venue should have happened years ago, it was the perfect move to breath new life into New Zealand’s longest and biggest running music festival. The plush green grass at the lakeside venue made for a welcome change to the concrete steps one used to have to elbow their way up at Mt Smart Stadium. There were trees for shade – a welcome addition in the hot summers day. Transitioning between stages was fast, free flowing and easy. The only downside was the long queues for toilets and drinks. After one 45-minute wait to get a beer on the scorching hot day only to be told I had to drink it in the fenced off bar area I wasn’t too happy. But the one thing you know will always be great at Big Day Out – the music, quickly redeemed this slight downer on my mood. And boy-oh-boy – there was a HEAP of good music.

The day started out strongly with Alaskan rock band Portugal. The Man. The psychedelic group was quick to impress what was a big crowd for a 1pm performance.  Then I was off to see the 1975, an electronica-rock band from Manchester who’re taking Britain by storm at the moment. What an experience. These newcomers are going to be massive, they put on an electric, fun and fast paced performance which had fans dancing with ridiculous enthusiasm, me included. But it wasn’t a show only for fans, I’d say a large number of the crowd unfamiliar with them would have walked away from the gig ready to go home and buy their album.

Then came US indie band Grouplove. What charisma! They were such an amusing act to watch, it would have been impossible not to enjoy. They were dynamic and unique and stood out as a highlight of the day for many. A few times during their show I was reminded of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sound and stage presence with singer Hannah Hooper regularly reflecting a young Karen O. Their biggest hit Tongue Tied went down as you’d imagine, with the crowd leaping high in the air, mouths open screaming along in excitement.  Grouplove are another band to watch closely.

The next few hours saw a split in crowds to a number of acts who prove the diversity of artists at Big Day Out. Fans spread out to see Kiwi favourites the Naked and Famous, rock out in style as usual. Toro Y Moi –the brainchild of American writer and producer Chazwick Bundick was a hit with its use of heavy synthesizers, looping and filtered vocals. Hardcore rockers Primus drew a big crowd while local DJ P Money caused a stir for so early in the afternoon. Swedish rock band the Hives were a popular replacement for Blur, who pulled out of the festival just a month out from touring. I am kicking myself for missing them because everyone who saw them was fizzing afterwards calling it an obvious highlight of the day.  Mean time, I decided to check out American rapper Mac Miller who was the only disappointment of the day. He failed to really perform leaving the whole show feeling dull and lifeless.

Then came the highlight. I’d waited years to see Montreal indie rockers Arcade Fire play again. I first discovered them at the 2008 Big Day Out so the excitement this time round was hard for me to contain. Turns out now I’ve seen them play again there’s no chance of holding it in. What a show! Kicking off the hour and a half set, the 10-piece-band opened with Ready to Start, a big hit off their 2010 album The Suburbs. The pace and energy started huge and it stayed there the whole gig. The rockers leapt around the stage with enormous liveliness playing a great mix of old favourites and bringing to life the songs from their newly released album Reflektor which has received a lot of criticism. The Haiti inspired tracks were electric live. Front man Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne have few rivals when it comes to the worlds best performers as they have a crack at every instrument on stage, sing with steady brilliance and genuinely look like they’re having the time of their lives. As the set finished with a vibrant Wake Up the massive crowd of fans who had flocked to see them couldn’t have looked happier. For me, no other act in the day could top it.

After that we trudged to see the eclectic Snoop Dogg. This act was easily one of the most entertaining performances you can find. The crowd was made up of the most interesting combination of people I’ve ever come across in my concert going. He read his crowd brilliantly. Snoop knew exactly when they needed a pick up and he knew exactly how to do it. “When I say sticky, you say icky!” is just one example of his bizarre creativity inspiring the masses watching on. Old favourites like Drop it like it’s Hot were just what everyone came to see and he made sure they got exactly that.

Then it was off to catch one of the biggest rock bands this planet has to offer, Pearl Jam. What a loyal crowd. They were amazing to watch from the edge of the stadium grounds as they were trusted by lead singer Eddie Vedder to sing the words to the most renowned songs. They moshed hard and listened intently to the incredible guitar solos. A proud Kiwi Big Day Out moment emerged as Vedder welcomed Liam Finn up on stage to “sing the shit out of” Habit. And he did just that. All sang the favourites everyone knows like Daughter and Better Man loudly. It was a show to cater for all levels of Pearl Jam fans from the people like me who prefer the more mellow jams to the diehard fans.

With a clashing timetable I was saddened to miss popular 2013 folk-rock newcomers the Lumineers, and Tame Impala who’re known for their energetic live act. But overlapping events is something you have to accept at an event of this size, especially when it had a line up of such caliber.

I’m pleased to see Big Day Out back to its former glory if not better, this festival is a part of New Zealand’s music culture and the 45,000 people who turned up yesterday proved we’re keen for it to stay. Bring on next year.