Gig review: Nadia Reid

I just witnessed one of New Zealand’s finest musicians play a gig which couldn’t have been any lovelier.

Nadia Reid – “she’s NZ’s answer to Joni Mitchell” I read. I pondered. That’s a big call – could it be true? After last nights show at Meow I can confirm, she’s definitely on the right track!

Tonight we were taken on a journey of her life as she told stories through songs from her brand new album Preservation and her 2015 debut record Listen To Formation, Look for the Signs.

Reid, a folk musician from Port Chalmers, has wisdom in her music you don’t naturally expect from a 25-year-old. Whether you’re foot tapping to a gentle melody or closing your eyes to soak up a crooning ballad, the lyrics come through so clearly and are hauntingly relatable. I accept that the fact I’m the same gender and incredibly close in age to her might make that last line seem redundant, but I don’t say it without genuine consideration. I feel certain Reid’s music connects with a wide audience because she writes with sincerity and performs the songs with a rare vulnerability.

Tonight her candid and sometimes hilarious tales behind the tunes particularly took me. “Now can I sing you a song about going home to stay with my mum after a break up and sleeping in a single bed? Sleeping in a single bed really makes it hit home.” That was her introduction to a stunning rendition of Reach My Destination. She may have had us laughing, but she’d also got us thinking and reflecting, and as soon as she sang the first lines…

There is one main street in this town

There are two straight lines in my head

It goes on, it goes on forever

…I was mesmerised in a haze of magic metaphors.

Reid’s vocals are faultless. Numerous times tonight I likened her in my head to Laura Marling, not a note was missed, not a waiver was heard. The control she had over this instrument was showcased particularly well in her ode to Wellington, Hanson St Pt. 2 (A River) and her encore tribute to her mother, Some Are Lucky. In these songs she carefully moved to and from the microphone to get the perfect echo or the perfect fade of vocals. In doing so she created tender and intimate moments for the audience to savour.

But there’s more to her songs than her voice, Reid knows how to play a guitar. Her fingers glided across the strings picking with impressive ease. Acoustic tracks, performed with little or no backing, were played to precision with careful crescendos. Thicker songs, with her talented band backing her up, were still dominated by her carefully strummed melodies.

Tonight’s conclusion? Preservation is an album capable of competing against the best artists in the world, especially when brought to life in concert by this talented performer.

Nadia Reid – I can’t wait to see what else you’ve got.

 

(Sorry for lack of photos, phone through a tanty)

Concert Review: Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens-philippa-ormrod.JPG

Sufjan Stevens takes you to another world of emotion.

Last night at the Michael Fowler Centre I was transported, I felt like I was part of the music as Stevens and his enigmatic band put on a faultless production. The concert was one of two halves and each was just as mesmerising.

First came a showcase of the stunning work that is Carrie and Lowell. The word death is mentioned in almost every song from this album which explores the difficult relationship he had with his mother, who was bipolar, schizophrenic and suffered from drug addiction. She died of cancer in 2012. But Stevens’ music, although it tells a depressing story, is uplifting in concert. Surprisingly, lines like: “Should I tear my eyes out now? Everything I see returns to you somehow. Should I tear my heart out now? Everything I feel returns to you somehow” didn’t make you feel like the world was ending. In fact, at the culmination of the show 4th of July, the audience happily sung along as the musicians chanted “we’re all gonna die” over and over with a mass of noise building underneath.

In this show Stevens almost played Carrie and Lowell track for track, this record has been widely acclaimed as his best yet so there were no complaints from me. Rolling out with Death With Dignity, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You and The Only Thing all in the row at the beginning was a clever way to hook the many new fans in the crowd right in. These songs are great on record, but seem genius when performed live. They have many layers which were cleverly built up on stage and with such heavy use of synth they really reverberate through you.

Older songs popped up now and again, a real highlight being the slow and haunting piano ballad The Owl and the Tanager and an intense Vesuvius which had me feeling like I was onboard a rocket ship heading for outer space. Also, I have to thanks Stevens for making me feel better about my ‘actions to match words’ dance moves because he is the master of this. I loved his quirky hand movements which he busted out in a rehearsed routine during certain tracks. Not a word was breathed from Stevens throughout the entire first half, but the music spoke for itself. I didn’t need reassurance from him that he wanted us there, I knew he appreciated the crowd by the way he played, sang and moved. When he came out after the encore though, there was no quiet Sufjan Stevens, he shared funny quips and highly intelligent philosophical life messages which give you an insight into his spirituality.

Sufjan Stevens-2-philippa-ormrod.JPG

Big ups to his wonderful band, particularly Dawn Landes who provided haunting harmonies and also put on an opening show to be proud of. The many talents of these musicians was especially evident in the acoustic second half as they crowded around one microphone, and all managed to shine. After the intensity of the Carrie and Lowell half of the show, this stripped back series of songs was magic in a different way. Here Stevens explored his older works and songs like To Be Alone With You and Heirloom were chilling and the much-loved Chicago was the ultimate finale. I sang “all things go” over and over all the way home.

Sufjan Stevens plays Wellington again tonight before heading to Auckland on Tuesday at the Civic. Get your tickets now, this is a show not to be missed.

Concert Review: Elton John

IMG_7638

There’s a reason Elton John is still packing out concerts with crowds of 30,000 people. At 68, this music superstar still knows how to put on one hell of a show.

Last night Westpac Stadium in Wellington every attendee would have been mesmerized as he played his Yamaha piano with every bit of fervor imaginable and sang those lyrics we all love so much to life.

The tempo was upbeat right from the get go as we were treated to a nice warm up with Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, before the diamante-clad, sunglass wearing icon burst into Bennie and the Jets and a contagious happiness spread around the crowd. A poignant moment came next during Candle in the Wind when the modern day lighter – people’s cellphone torches – had the whole stadium twinkling like thousands of tiny stars.

 Watching his fingers glide up and down the piano was gripping, particularly in a stripped back version of The One and the always enchanting Your Song.

 We were reminded why his most famous album was named after the song Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as the crowd echoed every word of the epic ballad. I was blown away by how the crowd took over the chorus, it was a moment I’ll never forget.

A similar feeling of overwhelming emotion came as John dedicated Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me to Jonah Lomu on the week of his death. There were plenty of wet eyes around me as the song built in crescendo to a chilling finale.

Elton John has so many hits that his 24 song set list could have featured only number ones, but it was lovely to hear a few random songs from different albums over the years interspersed between the real bangers, especially because you could see the joy he felt in playing them. In saying this, there was one run of big hits all in a row which was particularly fun for the audience to dance and scream along to: Levon, Tiny Dancer, Daniel, Philadelphia Freedom, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Rocket Man – it doesn’t get much better than that does it?

The concert came to a close with a dance party as he energetically sang I’m Still Standing and Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. Fists were punched into the air as people took on the role of back-up singer and echoed “Saturday” over and over with ridiculous grins on their faces.

Elton John was back on stage in a flash to give us the encore we all wanted and nobody was disappointed to hear Crocodile Rock which was a stellar way to finish the night.

Before the show there were whispers around me that he just couldn’t be the performer he used to be any more. “He’s too old” they said. Well last night Elton John proved those naysayers wrong, he’s still bloody fantastic. The Bitch Is Back.

Concert Review: Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams plays the Basin Reserve in Wellinton.
Robbie Williams plays the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

Robbie Williams wanted to entertain us and that he did.

The naughty English rocker played the Basin Reserve in Wellington last night. This show of singalongs was the perfect way for Kiwis to distract themselves from the nerves of the looming Rugby World Cup final this morning.

I have no doubt big fans of Robbie Williams would have got exactly what they were after last night. His show was typical of his cheeky character and hilariously amusing, it featured hit after hit from the musicians 90s heyday and it was pulled of with an on stage ease.

To love a bit of Robbie you’ve got to love a bit of cheese, and that’s exactly what he gave. He burst onto the stage following a dramatic, NASA-rocket-launch type countdown, teasing us with lyrics from some of his best songs. Immediately the thousands of middle-aged women around us were screaming as if they’d traveled back in time to their teenage years as he leapt around the stage pelvic thrusting during Let Me Entertain You and Rock DJ.

Things slowed down a notch here with a dreadful song I’d never heard before, Me and My Monkey. It was a stupid track to include in a mostly upbeat set list. But it wasn’t long before things were back on track and the crowd was boogying again. He brought out his opening act, boy band Lawson for a lovely version of Take That’s Back For Good and from there came the ones we were waiting for.

Feel was my pick for performance of the night and Supreme was another crowd pleaser. A duet with his black tie wearing “daddy” to Better Man was musically flat but rather cute. I still find it rather ironic hearing him sing about wanting to be a better man when he spent half the show swearing, talking about being “soberish” and singing a tune written for his two-year-old son called Motherfucker.

Robbie Williams and his father perform Better Man.
Robbie Williams and his father perform Better Man.

His real performance nouse was showcased as he brilliantly recited the poem Hello Sir from the album The Ego Has Landed. He wrote this as a ‘look where I am now’ message to his school teacher who believed he’d amount to nothing and took real joy in performing it to his legions of fans last night.

The Basin Reserve proved to be a fantastic concert venue for Wellingtonians, on a stunning spring night it was the perfect setting. A few neighbours cashed in on a free concert and Williams wasn’t going to miss the chance to give them heaps for it. At one stage he had apartment residents flashing their lights on and off to tell him they were enjoying the show. The way he involves his audience is admirable. He chatted freely between songs and it was very well received.

One thing that didn’t work for me were the many covers throughout the set. We heard snippets of Wonderwall, Lorde’s Royals, I Love Rock n Roll and even Hey Jude. Not to forget the cover of Bohemian Rhapsody he led out with in his encore. They didn’t work. His songs were what people wanted to hear and they’re the ones he performs with the most skill. One cover would have been more than enough. I’m certain the crowd would have preferred to hear tracks like Strong and You Win Some, You Lose Some more than these weak replications.

But Robbie Williams did finish in fashion. The show was brought to a close with She’s The One and Angels bringing down the house in true 90s singalong fashion.

Overall, it was a great blast from the past and a fun concert to check out but I’m not sure people will be rushing out to buy tickets if he returns in the next 18 months as promised.

Concert Review: The Phoenix Foundation

FullSizeRender (7)

The Phoenix Foundation are the quintessential Wellington band to check out at a gig at San Fran. Why? They’re right at home there and know how to put on a damn good show. Tonight’s concert was no different.

The start of their Give Up Your Dreams album tour went down better than an ice cold beer for a crowd full of longtime fans who got the perfect set list to thank them for their ongoing support.

The bands earliest work had easily won me over before a few experimental records lost me in the middle, but this latest album is easily their greatest effort yet and tonight’s gig really showcased that. While the old favourites rang true, the new tracks were the most vibrant, energetic and dance inducing. They stood out a mile above the rest which was lucky considering it was a ‘GUYD’ heavy set.

The show was roaring from the get go with Mountain immediately setting the tone of their new live sound before Bob Lennon John Dylan – played with attitude – had every crowd member screaming the lyrics in perfect time with their pumping fists and jiving feet.

Another standout from the GUYD album was Prawn which slowed things down but in a melodic, magical fashion. These new tracks bring out a bizarre new dance style which has you tapping and swooping your feet in fast motion while moving your upper half in a hippy-like dazed fashion. It works surprisingly well – I promise.

Before long the guys, lead by an always enchanting Samuel Flynn Scott and Luke Buda, took us back “14 years” (sadly not 40 Years as many were hoping) and busted out a stunning rendition of Going Fishing. In the journey back through their work came Buffalo, a middle of the set highlight echoed passionately by the crowd, and Bright Grey which was performed with a contagious ferocity.

There’s something refreshing about The Phoenix Foundation and their don’t give a damn attitude. The guys are there to play their music the way they want to and nobody else will have a say in it. In a venue like San Fran this sits perfectly with the audience who’re happy to be taken in whatever random direction the group wants to go.

The set came to a radiant finish with the title track of the album provoking a singalong to be proud of for such a recent release. There’s something wonderfully satisfying about screaming lyrics with a depressing message like “don’t let anyone say that the world is your oyster, the world is not an oyster” when the music is invoking the complete opposite emotional reaction in you.

My only criticism tonight was that the encore wafted a bit and could’ve been brought together for one final hit singalong instead of fading out in a haze of synth sounds. But that is a mere afterthought. The Phoenix Foundation have been a New Zealand indie institution for more than a decade now, but they’re only getting better and this concert was proof of that.

Get along to see them on their NZ tour and you’ll be glad to GIVE UP YOUR DREAMS!

Concert Review: Jurassic 5

Jurassic 5 play Shed 6 in Wellington.
Jurassic 5 play Shed 6 in Wellington.

Last night I witnessed hip hop royalty.

I watched Jurassic 5 transform a laid back, mixed-bunch of a crowd into a mass of sweat-dripping, arm-shaking, fast-talking, crazy dancers – infected with happiness.

J5 were well and truly in the house last night. These guys are the gods of rap music and their gig at Shed 6 in Wellington made that clear as day.

The crew got straight into the swing of things with much-loved tracks I Am Somebody and Jayou. The crowd was bouncing along in no time and you could see the group were rather impressed with the response. In what was probably a strategic comment, Chali 2na told us we were a far better audience than the ones they’ve had in their recent tour of Australia, obviously this went down well with fans and the energy in the crowd went up even further.

The American alternative rap group who hit the big time in the 90s, reunited in 2013 and have been wowing fans around the world ever since. Even though their beards are now a bit grey and they may have a few rounder tummies, the J5 guys have certainly still got it. MC’s Chali 2na, Akil, Soup and Marc 7 are as quick as ever with lyrics tumbling out of their mouths in an awe-inspiring speed and in perfect unison. DJ legends Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark do a stellar job producing those bouncy backing tracks we all love so much while mixing it up from time to time in show-stealing solo stints. Near the start of the set they came out from behind their turn-tables in true fashion. They leapt around the stage mixing up a track in a ridiculous manner by spinning the giant record prop in the middle of the stage and playing portable mixers. At more than one stage during the gig DJ Nu-Mark played percussion on a set of old LPs he hung from around his neck. It was quite a display.

From here we were lead back down memory lane through their oldest and most famous hits. Chali 2na, the unofficial lead of the group, told us “this is the part of the show when we take you back to where it all began” and that’s exactly what they did, in fantastic style. An energetic performance of Quality Control was a clear show highlight for many in the crowd while I particularly enjoyed hearing Gotta Understand, Thin Line and Freedom brought to life. Hey was dedicated to all the ladies in the house, with the men told to go and have a smoke or something. The MCs antics on stage during this slower track were hilarious and it was a fun singalong.

Each crew member in Jurassic 5 stands out in different phases throughout the gig, they could each hold their own on stage solo, but the magic of Jurassic 5 is the way they rap together. The songs sound quite remarkable with the strength of four strong male voices layered upon one-another working at a fast pace. Each song chorus showcases this superbly while the verses give the opportunity for the rappers to show off their own style – something the audience loves as they cheer on their favourite MC.

Of course, their biggest song Concrete Schoolyard was a highpoint. You could tell the J5 crew love the response they get to this and the crowd wasn’t holding back. Everyone sang every word whether instructed to or not, and cheered rapturously in the perfect moments like for Chali 2na’s spookily quick solo in the third verse. This was closely followed by a brilliant performance of In The House which brought the first set to a close. In this all six formed a line on stage and performed a hilarious dance routine I didn’t want to end. It was comedic gold and of course that was only one example of their humour, throughout the gig they had us acting out jumping on a motorcycle, fist-pumping, closing and opening our fingers in time with the beat and much more.

j5 2

The boys came back on stage for the best kind of encore. They asked people in the front row to think of a more obscure song of theirs they’d like to hear then proceeded to take requests and perform a snippet of some of the lesser-known songs that we might not otherwise have heard. It was entertaining seeing what people came up with and even more interesting watching the crew try to remember how some of the raps started. Of course they always figured it out and performed them as if they played these tracks every show.

After this they performed their latest release The Way We Do It, which showed the group has still got it in every way. This song stands out for me in the set, it is just as good as their golden oldies and I loved watching the pride on their faces as they busted it out. From here they finished the concert off in a magnificent manner with a run of hits, Jurass Finish First, Verbal Gunfight and What’s Golden. What a note to end on.

Half the magic of Jurassic 5 is their PC approach to hip hop. Their songs aren’t interspersed with constant swearwords or controversial lyrics, they’re just about having fun and that’s certainly what they do on stage. All six group members are fantastic to watch, they are charismatic in every way and the fun they’re having on stage is contagious, it would be impossible not to grin your way through a gig by these guys. The other refreshing factor is that each of them seemed genuinely humbled by the response they were getting from their Wellington fans. At the end of the show the audience was so enthralled that they essentially refused to leave and kept clapping the crew well after they’d left the stage. In brilliant style, out came the MCs to shake hands and take photos with their fans.

J5 truly are a class above today’s rappers and last night’s concert is proof. If you’re in Auckland, find a way to get along to one of their gigs tonight or tomorrow. This is an experience too good to miss out on.

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.