The haunting vocals of Wisely & Slow soared across the hushed venue with incredible effect as British sister act The Staves put their best instruments on show. The three-part harmonies we came to hear burst through in show-stopping fashion from the get-go, with perfect pitch and impressive vocal control. By the end of the first number I was mesmerised – and there was so much more to come.
The Staveley-Taylor sisters were in Wellington as part of the NZ Festival and that meant we were lucky enough to witness the increasingly popular group in an incredibly small and intimate setting – a spiegel tent of all things. The siblings started off quietly, letting their songs do the talking, but warmed up throughout the night and by the end of the set they were giggling with typical sibling-banter. Chat ranged from gentle thank yous and appreciation for Wellington before morphing into silly talk including telling us they were going to “play some music which is gonna fuck you up”, and later getting into a silly back and forth about how the Spice Girls reunion is a bad idea (this came after admitting they sang the 90s girl groups songs during their soundcheck earlier in the night). As an audience member they were relatable and all the more loveable for it.
The set got off to a humming start with Blood I Bled and Steady from 2014 Justin Vernon produced album If I Was. The tracks from this record and 2016 EP Sleeping in a Car stood out above their earlier tracks because the girls incredible vocals are used in unique and exciting ways, and because they have a bit of grunt to them. Vocal melodies were looped and layered to create the base line for Outlaw and as Camilla took the softer lead in Black & White, Jessica and Emily’s backing vocals took on the effect of a saucy electric guitar riff as they punctuated each chorus. The grungy and no-nonsense performance of Tired As Fuck with it’s quickening tempo was high-impact and Teeth White flowed effortlessly between full-noise rock-style vocals and guitar melodies to softer folk harmonies.
Highlights for me were the chilling performances of Make It Holy which started soft and delicately before building to a phenomenal crescendo, and the stripped back No Me, No You, No More which was the perfect scene setter for vocal show-stopper of the night – Let Me Down. The sad, but stunning lyrics were laid bare as the three sisters sang it to perfection.
The end of the set came too soon according to the crowd who clapped and cheered for more and more. The Staves willingly obliged and returned on stage in a humble fashion for a raw and honest acoustic encore. The trio sang around one microphone and brought out the oldies. In The Long Run was magic, a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago was a welcome addition, and show closer Mexico was a poignant and delicate final display.
They promised they’ll come back – and when they do – you’d be stupid to miss The Staves. This was an unforgettable concert.