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


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.

Pondering Paul McCartney Possibilities

Paul McCartney and John Lennon
Paul McCartney and John Lennon

A big rumour has taken hold in New Zealand and it’s a rumour that has got me indescribably hopeful.

Paul McCartney has signalled he’s looking at playing some songs down under, there’s talk of an Australian tour, and for us Kiwis stuck in the middle of nowhere, each time a big name like this heads to Aus we cross our fingers hoping they might just add an extra date or two here.

As a muso, there are a number of acts I hope to cross off on my list of ‘artists I want to see live’. While this list chops and changes regularly, there has always been a clear number one and there’s no chance of that changing.


I feel like he’s written the perfect soundtrack to my life. I connect with each and every song in a special way.

From the ultimate ballad Let It Be which tells a gripping story of love and loss we all know, to Martha My Dear the bouncy track inspired by his relationship with his dog, to the feet-tapping Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da we sang as a family on every road trip, The Long and Winding Road which overwhelms me, bringing tears to my eyes every time, as it builds to a beautiful orchestral climax, and of course Blackbird which gives me inspiration to push through every challenge I face in life.

That of course is only to name a few, each song written by this legend is quite simplistic, especially when compared to most of today’s hits which are a technical feast. But that’s the beauty of Paul McCartney’s music. Every song is timeless, every song will be loved by generation after generation, every song shows off the power of a well-played instrument and the power of well-written lyrics.

The real dream will always be to see the full Beatles gang but since that can’t happen, Paul’s the next best thing.

Please concert promoters – make my dream come true and bring Paul McCartney to NZ.

Check out this lovely live video of Paul McCartney playing ‘Here Today’ the song he wrote about his relationship with John Lennon after he died. 

Matt Corby – The Resolution Tour live at the Wellington Opera House

Me and my colleague Nita were lucky enough to meet Matt Corby the day after his show.
Me and my colleague Nita were lucky enough to meet Matt Corby the day after his show.

Last night I went along to see Australian singer-songwriter Matt Corby play a sell out concert at Wellington’s Opera House. Off the back of only three EPs, I headed along to the gig expecting a good, but unpolished, short set from an up-and-comer. I was so far off track. What I got instead was a nothing short of breathtaking musical experience. I’d be willing to put money on it: Matt Corby is going to be the next big thing. (Although I’m sure he already is in the minds of many – myself now included).

Last night it only took about 30 seconds of music for me to know I was in for a real treat. He first took to the stage on his own, picking up an acoustic guitar and picking the slow tune It’s Good to be Alone. He sang softly in the beginning but then, reflecting the true light and shade in each of his songs, he turned it up a notch, crooning the higher notes. It didn’t take long for him to take control of the crowd who whispered in amazement during the softer parts of the song, only to explode each time he hit a perfect falsetto note without fault.

Next up he shuffled to the piano and was joined by his five-piece band to bring to life soul ballad Made of Stone in a powerful burst of intensity. At this point I became thrilled I’d got a seat in the gods of the theatre – this is a band it pays to have a good view of. The six of them on stage would have been entertainment enough if you couldn’t even hear the music; they showcased the brilliance often lost in a backing band for a solo artist. Not only did they provide a great base, but they added to it with brilliant harmonies, an obvious understanding and appreciation for the music, and a heart-warming enthusiasm. Corby also did everything in his power to ensure they were as much a part of the show as he; and for that he deserves credit.

He went on to play perfectly executed versions of radio hits Resolution and Brother to which the crowd stamped their feet and sang along to every word. The band looked to be loving every minute of the big hits. It was hilarious watching them flock around shared drum kits smashing out the thunderous beats with wooden spoons of all things.

Each song showcased a different skill of Corby’s. Whether it be an electric guitar heavy, blues-sounding jam resembling Jeff Buckley, the acoustic guitar strong, feet tapping, folk-sounding numbers echoing a bit of Mumford and Sons, or the gentle but bone-chilling piano solos in which the silence between notes was as haunting as the high notes hit. Covers of the Black Keys hit Lonely Boy and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Almost Cut My Hair were fresh sounding, fun and a reflection of his musical influences.

A real high point was the introduction of new song Trick of the Light. This track has a blues and jazz-sounding base, catchy rhyming lyrics, funky guitar picking and clever use of tempo. Only two bars in, everyone in the crowd was bopping in their seats and giving the person next to them the nod of approval. This song will be a hit. That was made even more clear when it slowed to a halt, only for Corby to bring out the loop pedal and layer a fantastic combination of beat-boxing, harmonising and guitar riffs before the band brought it to full force in a power finale.

I think even if he couldn’t sing, Corby would still have a loyal fan base. The crowds of girls screaming ‘I LOVE YOU’ during every song break tells you he’s rather easy on the eyes. He strolled on stage looking completely at home in his bare feet, rolled up jeans and t-shirt, his glorious curly locks cover half his face, perfectly positioned for the effortless but effective hair flick he performs as he rips out each wailing high note.

He had natural stage presence and did incredibly well dealing light-heartedly with some intoxicated audience members who made an embarrassing spectacle of themselves shouting out crude comments every chance they got.

This show proved to me that Matt Corby is a brilliant artist on every level. Watch him closely; this lad is going to be a name we hear a lot more of in times to come.

If you’re not up to play with this new star, check out this live studio version of ‘Made In Stone’

Lorde ready for world domination

Ella Yelich-O'Connor AKA Lorde
Ella Yelich-O’Connor AKA Lorde

You know how there are those bands and artists who have that one awesome song, or that one stellar album and are the talk of the town and everyone is hyping them as the next big thing? Then, all of a sudden, they’re forgotten about. No longer are they the popular topic of conversation, the chosen soundtrack for the hottest party of the year or half the worlds style icon. Now, they’re just that person who was famous once and you laugh when their one-hit-wonder comes on the radio and ask your friends ‘whatever happened to this guy?’.

Well as soon as the magical voice of Lorde resonated around Vector Arena on Saturday night for the launch of iHeartRadio, I knew that scenario isn’t going to be the case for 16-year-old Aucklander Ella Yelich-O’Connor. She isn’t going to become some young, kiwi school-girl who had a few catchy songs back in the day before dropping off the face of the earth. This girl is going to be huge. Why you ask?

1. She’s got one hell of a voice

It’s confident, sexy, rousing and has an incredible range which is showcased in every song. It’s certainly not the voice you’d expect from your typical gawky 16-year-old teen, but Lorde doesn’t fit that stereotype one bit. She’s been likened to the cinematic sounds of moody singer Lana Del Rey but she shouldn’t be lumped into the same category. Lorde has a unique take on today’s crowd favourite – alternative pop music, and it deserves its own credit because there’s no true comparison.

This voice didn’t falter in concert, it came across at recording quality, no hint of strain on those high notes and an incredible confidence with every word sung. She kicked off the show with three crowd favourites from the Love Club EP. She emerged from a silhouette of sheets singing Bravado, the ultimate build-up song which quickly sent chills down my spine and got the 5000 strong fan-base screaming and singing along. I’m sure everyone in the crowd knew in that moment that they were in for a fantastic show.

2. She’s not your average young popstar

This girl is so much better than most of the young teen singers who dominate the airwaves for one glaringly obvious reason – she writes her own music. Not only that, but it’s great music which is suited to people from all walks of life. Her songs are filled with a surprising maturity for a 16-year-old. I’m sure when I was that age I was not so wise but it’s for that reason that people of all ages can relate to her lyrics. There’s none of this ‘sounding the same’ business when it comes to her songs. Each tune takes on a life of its own while all still having that wicked bass beat, which is what makes it a ‘Lorde’ song. Last nights gig showed there’s more where that came from. Most of the songs she played were new ones set to be released on her debut album Pure Heroine later this month, and they didn’t disappoint. A crowd favourite was White Teeth Teens, and Buzzcut Season has the potential to be the next Royals, I can see it ruling the charts in no time.

3. She’s still got so much time to grow

So often young music stars start out strong and crash when the pressures of the job get to them. But it’s a year on since Lorde released Royals, and so far she’s looking good. I think a bit of that is thanks to her management team keeping her hidden away from too much public attention and ensuring she doesn’t over do it. Many young musicians burn out, take Demi Lovato or Justin Bieber for example, but Lorde appears in control. On stage last night she was calm, composed and it was refreshing to see an act sip on a bottle of water between songs instead of swigging back half a bottle of beer. But in saying that, her stage presence isn’t quite there yet. She’s got the basics, but a bit more crowd interaction would help her concerts to become even more mesmerising. All the more reason her youth isn’t a disadvantage though because she’s got time to develop her live shows and I’m sure there will be plenty of fans ready to go through that growth with her.

4. She’s got a large and loyal fan base

That was made clear when tickets to this free concert of 5000 put on by iHeart Radio, were snapped up within 20 minutes of them going up online. The screaming gaggles flooded into the gig in excitement. They sang every word and cheered just as loud for the numbers they didn’t know as they did for the big hits.They were all for the sultry eyes and pouting lips, the constant flicks of her voluminous curly hair, and shimmies of her womanly hips. When Lorde told them she “doesn’t do encores” writing it off as lame and finishing on a new song no one knew, they were more receptive than ever. Which is surprising given fans normally kick up a fuss when the performer doesn’t finish on a chart-topping song. That call, off the back of only a five song EP seems risky but she pulled it off in every sense. It’s exciting times for her followers because now she has finally got some real on stage experience and there’s bound to be more trend-setting attitude where that came from.

5. She’s cracked the charts outside of New Zealand

Her impending overseas domination all started with Australia. Lorde was called up last minute in July to replace one of the biggest artists in the world, headline act Frank Ocean at Australia’s massive festival Splendour in the Grass. The pressure was on then and she performed. Next thing you know she’s topped the US Alternative charts with Royals, then just weeks later, the hit debut single crept into eighth place in the Billboard Hot 100.

Billboard says the Takapuna teenager has gone from selling slightly more than 1000 downloads per week in late May to 160,000-plus in weekly downloads this month. This tells you a thing or two about Lorde, she’s not your typical Kiwi musician who fails to get much of a fan base overseas. She’s ready for world domination and last night will be the last time anyone ever sees her in concert for free. Watch this space.

Passion Pit pull it off

Passion Pit live at the Powerstation in Auckland.
Passion Pit live at the Powerstation in Auckland.

American indie-pop band Passion Pit played Auckland’s Powerstation this week and the gig was a raging success. Frontman Michael Angelakos has recently spoken out about his battle with bipolar and how it almost meant the tour didn’t happen. But unless you listen closely to the words of each song you wouldn’t know the latest album Gossamer is a tale of testing times, because the man who appears on stage seems as happy as can be.

Passion Pit burst onto the scene in 2009 with their hit album Manners and quickly picked up a large following in New Zealand thanks to a high placement in that year’s Big Day Out lineup. Their gig at the festival, however, left me somewhat uninspired for the first 40 minutes until sound troubles were sorted out. So with only 20 minutes of Passion-flavoured-mayhem under my belt I knew I needed more and got very excited about their return to New Zealand.

I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did the crowd get to hear all the goodies from the first album, they got to hear the even better, more defined and crafted songs from Gossamer. This album isn’t all the screeching falsetto the band is well known for – that’s still there but now it slots in nicely beside some more mellow tones from Michael Angelakos. It was these songs that really came to life at the gig and I’m sure will attract a wider following.

The album’s first single Take a Walk had the crowd marching and stomping on the ground like a stationary army, while catchy tune Carried Away had everyone immersed in a singalong, turning to their friends to scream the words in their direction like they might actually stand a chance of hearing them.

Then came Constant Conversations and that’s what had me giggling excitedly like a 14-year-old girl at One Direction. The song has a bit of everything and when tied together it was musical heaven. A matured chipmunk-sounding line loops in the background while a repetitive rambling of the simple yet effective lyric ‘oh’ has the crowd singing in perfect unison and actually sounding like it’s hitting the notes. Then they throw in fantastic lyrics like “now I’m drunker than before they told me drinking doesn’t make me nice” and get every person in the crowd to carry out a perfectly timed side-to-side wave as the song builds to a stunning culmination of all factors. In my mind, it was four minutes of pure joy.

The band’s first big hit Little Secret finishes the gig with the whole puppet-audience jumping “higher, higher and higher” as instructed. Then back for a short but effective encore with number one hit from the first album, Sleepyhead. I think it’s safe to say everyone in the crowd was the opposite of sleepy after that. (Pity it was a Thursday night.)

Overall, it was a fantastic gig. A glorious combination of modern music technology pulled off seamlessly thanks to good performers and a grungy bass beat. It’s one of the best dance parties I’ve been too. I even have the sore calf muscles to prove it.

It’s a glorious day – Big Day Out is returning to NZ

The main stages at Big Day Out 2011 at Mt Smart Stadium
The main stages at Big Day Out 2011 at Mt Smart Stadium.

Neil Young, The Killers, Muse, LCD Soundsystem, The Violent Femmes, Iggy Pop, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’re just a small selection of the world’s most famous bands I’ve added to my ‘Seen in Concert’ list thanks to Big Day Out.

When it was announced last year that the 20-year-old festival was no longer going to be held in New Zealand, I stood up and kicked the wall while screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” (no exaggeration). The pain I was experiencing was made three times worse a couple of weeks on when the line up for the Australian shows was announced. I’d been to every Big Day Out since I turned 15 and my mum finally gave into my begging. But this, this was the best line up yet and I wasn’t going to get to go!

I couldn’t hack it, I got on the phone to friends straight away, found one willing to splash a bit of cash and within weeks we’d booked our tickets and flights to Brisbane for the Gold Coast concert in January. The experience was great! We had a blast at the Aussie gig but the state of my bank balance afterwards told me I couldn’t do this every year.

So you’ll imagine my relief when it was revealed Big Day Out was making a return to New Zealand in 2014. Today brought the best news of all – a venue change from Mt Smart Stadium to Western Springs has been given council approval. This one small move is going to make the concert an even better version of itself.

The key to a festival with many stages is access between the different areas. I went to Wellington’s Homegrown in its first year, excited at the prospect of the water front gig showcasing Kiwi artists. But after missing the start of every band’s show by at least 15 minutes because it took so long to walk between each stage, I never wanted to go back. Logistically Homegrown was a nightmare.

In comparison, Big Day Out was much better but there were still a few issues at the previous venue of Mt Smart Stadium when it came to entering and exiting the main stage. It was set up on the rugby field and only accessible by stairs, which overflowed with fans pushing to get to the next act. Considering myself a bit of a ‘BDO regular’, I always attacked the stairs with my elbows out and ready to push. But if you were unaware of how to tackle the crowd, it could become an almighty struggle.

At this year’s Gold Coast Big Day Out the venue, Parklands, was fantastic. The three sets of stages were a close distance to each other and on the same level of ground thus avoiding the awful stairs. Yet the sounds didn’t overlap and food stalls and toilets were nicely scattered in between. The park setting worked perfectly, as will Western Springs, which is of a similar layout. I’m even prepared to push aside my fear of birds to dance with the swans if it means five more minutes with my favourite band. So sayonara Mt Smart.

Not to mention that by taking the festival away from the industrial part of Auckland with little public transport in place, bringing it to the city and it’s the perfect recipe for happy concert-goers. No more waiting in the rain for 45 minutes to get on the train feeling like your feet are going to fall off at any minute and your eyes physically can’t stay open. Now for most, it will be an easy walk home or an easy walk to a number of methods of transportation.

It’s a good day for Kiwi music junkies like myself now that we’re welcoming the return of Big Day Out and a revamped version. Organisers have figured out how to make the concert a logistical success so now we just have to hope the line up of acts is just as good.