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.

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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.

Leonard Cohen a let down

Leonard CohenI’ve decided it’s time Leonard Cohen gives up touring live shows and instead puts pen to paper to write poetry.

Last night I headed along to the TSB Bank Arena in Wellington to see the old crooner perform. I will be up front, I’m not a die hard fan but the songs of his I love, I really love so I went with high expectations. While the majority of the audience gave three enthusiastic standing ovations, I personally found it hard to get my bum off my chair. Cohen had a wonderful enthusiasm but the rest of the act fell short. All of the favourites were included, from Dance Me to the End of Love, Hallelujah and Bird on the Wire. They were fun (well, as fun as such depressing songs can be) and everyone sang along, but to be honest, the back up singers outshone Cohen, even the audience sometimes sounded more in tune.

To put it frankly, I think Cohen is past his used by date. The 79-year-old dances around the stage and takes to his knees with an abundance of energy, but we haven’t come to watch him dance, we’ve come to watch him sing and his voice just isn’t what it used to be. As well-loved as his songs are, they just don’t have the same effect as they should when his famously low, husky voice is used to speak the lyrics more than it is to sing. They’re beautiful lyrics, Cohen certainly has a way with words and knows how to tug at the heart strings and prompt a few giggles, but I found myself thinking the whole way through the gig that he would be better off putting on a poetry recital. A few times I thought he’d read my mind on that note as he silenced the crowd reciting his musings in a slow, mild manner, before the band started up into song. I was more captivated in those moments than I was during most of his songs.

By the end of the first act I was bored stiff. For the first time in my life, I contemplated leaving the concert early. But I’ll give the old groover a bit of credit, the second half definitely picked up. He came back firing with a more energetic Tower of Song and the lovely Suzanne. But it wasn’t long before the pace of the performance slowed back down and I found my mind wandering again, in fact I found myself at one point struggling to keep my eyes open.

I persevered, with the hope my favourite, So Long, Marianne would erase my current disappointment. That song was great, so was Hallelujah which the crowd eagerly sang along to, including an over excited couple behind me who clapped, sang and squealed so loudly I thought they were at least 20 years younger.

But it wasn’t either of these big hits that stole the show. It was the wonderful nine-piece band on stage beside Cohen. One reason it’s good he is still touring at 79 is so these talents are showcased to the world. Each and every one of them deserves as much credit as the others. Musical director and bassist Rosco Beck kept the beat sounding funky and fresh, Neil Larsen played the Hammon B3 organ fiercely, regularly stealing the show, but he had stiff competition from violinist Alexandru Bublitchi who executed a perfect solo in almost every song. Javier Mas had the audience sitting still in awe during his many solos on a 12 string guitar. Things really got exciting when the backup singers dropped the ‘mmms’ and ‘dooos’ and took control. Cohen’s regular collaborator Sharon Robinson sang Alexandra Leaving flawlessly on her own  while the Webb Sisters Charley and Hattie played an emotional encore version of If It Be Your Will with just a guitar and the enchanting use of a harp. Their voices gave me chills down my spine.

By the end of the second half I was somewhat more satisfied, but three very rehearsed encores got the better of me and I left before the end of the last song. I’m sorry Leonard Cohen but I think you’ve done your dash. I commend you for presenting your band to the world but think it’s time you left the performing to them.

Passenger at the Powerstation

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If you love good music but a bit of stand-up comedy also tickles your fancy, a Passenger concert would be the perfect night out for you.

On Friday I headed along to the Powerstation to see Mike Rosenberg aka Passenger live. The British folk-rock singer was back in New Zealand for the second time this year. He was here in March to open for Ed Sheeran on tour – but now it’s certain, this is an artist worthy of his own show and that was reflected in his sell out gigs in Auckland and Wellington.

He had stiff competition with Taylor Swift playing a sell out Vector Arena and pop superstar DJ David Guetta playing the Our House Festival the same night. But that didn’t deter a loyal fan base who turned up ready to savour his unique sound and sing every word when prompted.

Passenger’s performance was flawless. If you break it down he had a bit of everything. He played all the favourites with encouraged crowd singalongs, new songs had the audience mesmerised in silence and when he mashed up tunes from his latest album All the Little Lights with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Haddaways What is Love he certainly had everyone grinning.

An introductory tale about meeting the cancer-ridden subject of his next song had people (me included) close to tears, once the song started there was no hope of holding it in. As soon as I got home I was straight onto iTunes to download Riding to New York.

The hilarious song I Hate, an Irish jig pub-sounding ballad about the things in life which piss him off, went down a treat with the audience who sang along to every word, cheering at the lines which struck a chord with them. I was thrilled as a concert junkie later in the act when he appropriately stopped mid-song, to repeat the line “I hate when people pay money to see a gig and talk through every f**king song” in order to silence a drunken bunch who were chatting loudly through a beautifully harmonized version of Heart on Fire. For this song he was joined on stage by Kiwi musician Luke Thompson and his band mate, the three sharing one microphone and singing with spine-tingling clarity. Thompson also played a wonderful opening set.

Half the wonder of the gig was Rosenberg’s ability to entertain. It was only him, his guitar and a mic on stage yet he had incredible presence. Half the time the mic wasn’t even used, given the audience a real taste of who the man, who made a name for himself as a busker, really is. There was a lot of talking between each song, but no chance of it getting boring as it can with other performers; Passenger is a hilarious man and the constant jokes he cracked, also often mid-tune, provided a light-hearted element to what he described as “a night of singing all his really depressing songs”.

It was certainly a concert to remember, I’ll be lining up to see him again. There’s only more to come with this fantastic new artist and I can’t wait to see what’s in store.