Category Archives: music

The Elvis TCB Band with John Rowles

Elvis TCB Band & John Rowles

Opera House, Wellington November 2014

David Famularo

It was hearing Radio New Zealand music reviewer Nick Bollinger interviewing guitarist James Burton that piqued my interest in this concert. I was already familiar with Burton’s music without actually knowing this – most notably 1950s rockabilly hit Suzie Q. It was Burton’s groundbreaking playing that made the song, when Burton was barely 15.

He has played with a wealth of artists since, most notably Elvis Presley from 1969 to 1977, and along with Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (piano) and Norbert ‘Put’ Putnam (bass) who also played in Elvis’ Taking Care of Business (TCB) band, was going to perform in Wellington, backing John Rowles on his and Elvis’ hits (In the end, I don’t think Putnam performed at this concert but I haven’t been able to confirm this).

I have to admit to not being a great fan of Rowles’ music, although I fully acknowledge his talents as a singer. So to some degree I went to the concert as an uncommitted observer, unlike most of those who milled about the foyer of the Opera House pre-concert (although I did meet up with a old blues playing friend during the interval there for the same reason as me, so there must have been a few James Burton fans in attendance).

It’s hard to discern who was there to see and hear John Rowles and who was there for the Elvis connection. There was just the one tall gentleman dressed in a rockabilly style – slicked back hair, wearing a jacket with a giant Elvis image on the back. I admire such people for their commitment, and courage in presenting it to a world which has a tendency to ridicule too easily. But for the most part the audience is of the age where they are likely to have fallen in love with Elvis and Rowles some time in the 1960s.

Elvis and Rowles do a share a lot in common – in particular a love of pomp and showmanship, and powerful soulful voices. A lot of their aura was also based around their sexual mystic. While Elvis died young enough not to have to confront the issues that come with being an ageing sex symbol, unfortunately for Rowles, as he is quite honest enough to admit, this gets harder to conjure up with every concert (at one point someone in the audience shouts “Take it all off! – Are you serious? You might be disappointed.”)

The audience is quite anarchic at some points during the concert, somehow managing to be both fawning and mocking, almost at the same time. Rowles laps up the former in a somewhat gauche manner, especially when dealing with star struck 60 year-olds, and mostly ignores the later. In some ways, Rowles’s once huge popularity acts as a millstone around his neck, now that he has permanently moved back to New Zealand.

Unlike another Maori crooner, Denis Marsh, who never made it big on the world stage but how has a strong and stable following when he regularly tours New Zealand’s “workingmens’ clubs. Could Rowles, for instance, earn a living doing these sorts of tours? Probably not, partly out of pride and also because he doesn’t have the common touch (although I have just noticed on his website www.serenadesfromtheheart.com that Rowles is available for “Weddings, Birthdays, Fund Raisers, Private Parties, Grand Openings and Funerals” – I think he would be great for these).

Rowles belongs to an era when separation between star and audience was essential to maintain their aura. Living in a country with a population of four million it’s very easy to become over-exposed and devalued. But strip all this away, and you still have a fine singer. He just needs his own Rick Rubin (famous for revitalising the twilight career of Johnny Cash amongst others) to work their magic and Rowles could conceivable yet have another hit, or at least put out a critically respected album.

So anyway, I’m sitting next to a man in a large cowboy hat – the only cowboy hat in attendance – and he is telling me over the sound of popera being played through the soundsystem (incongruously given the genre of the concert), that he plays in a country/rockabilly band. We agree that mainstream Country & Western music from the 1950s and 1960s is preferable to alt country.

And then the lights dim, and Also Sprach Zarathustra, made famous by the film 2001, and traditionally the opening for Elvis’ live performances starts up and the band kicks off with CC Rider, Rowles entering stage right to introduce its members and immediately mellow the mood with Welcome to My World.

The energy and music steps up a notch again with a fine version of Little Sister, written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, with Presley’s version reaching No 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Burton’s guitar and Tutt’s drums lift the rhythm up to another level without losing the essentially laid back flavour of the song. Rowles’ vocals work well on the song as well.

Incidentally, it is interesting to read on the Internet that Elvis had a remarkably wide range, described variously as tenor, baritone and bass. It is when Rowles covers songs sung by Elvis in the lower registers that the two match up most perfectly.

Then it’s back to Rowles’s own hits with If I Only Had Time and Hush Not a Word to Mary. Worth mentioning at this point are the skills of the two female backing vocalists whose names I didn’t catch.

Next up is You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, a 1965 hit by The Righteous Brothers. Elvis began performing the song in concert in 1970, with pianist Hardin’s new arrangement showcasing Presley’s ability to further emphasize the R&B and soul aspects of the song, according to Wikipedia, that is.

The song was released on Presley’s 1970 album That’s the Way It Is and reprised for his 1972 live album Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden. It’s a little gem that I’ve never associated with Elvis and along the way a few such songs are dropped into the mix. It’s the first of three songs from Elvis’s late 1960s/early 1970s period that Rowles perfectly captures the spirit off.

But inevitably there’s going to be some 1950s Rock & Roll which actually wasn’t Elvis’ strongest suite although he sold it best. Heartbreak Hotel leads on to Hound Dog, and later That’s Alright Mama. Unfortunately we have to put up with How Great Thou Art, one of the dullest songs of all time.

In his patter Rowles has the lines down pat but unfortunately for him, his audience has a tendency to miss the cues, for example, there’s a great big awkward space when he says “Thank you for joining us”, leaving me with the task of conjuring up some applause. In between numbers, Rowles’s humour sometimes saves him, and sometimes digs a hole that Rowles barely manages to escape from with dignity.

I’ve already said I’m not a fan of Rowles’s own hits, but his self-penned The Girl in White, which I’d never heard before, is actually very sophisticated and appealing. It brings out the best in Rowles’s voice, reminding you that he just needs the right material to be able to produce a sound that very few others can match.

Burton’s guitar throughout is understated. He’s content for the most part to support Rowles with the occasional short solo, as is also the case for Hardin and Tutt. Essentially he’s a country rock guitarist – as Burton acknowledged in the Bollinger review, the music he played when he first started out “was called ‘hillbilly’ then.”

Hardin’s keyboard work is a bit lost in the mix, as often happens with keyboards. I know no one plays acoustic piano on stage any more but I believe that the best and only true way to play Honky Tonk/Rock & Roll piano is on a miced up acoustic. Electric pianos are but a pale approximation in comparison.

Likewise, while Tutt’s drumming is supremely professional and soulful, his drums are just too close to audibly perfect (ironically) thanks to modern technology. Rock & Roll needs an edge in its sound which requires a basic beat up drum kit. Then we are on to Cheryl Moana Marie – nuff said! But a good example of the genre I call “Maori Country”.

This is followed by Johnny B Good by the brilliant Chuck Berry. An interesting fact about Berry’s music is that it is totally black blues when played by him and totally white country when played by Jerry Lee Lewis, which fits in with my theory that all musical genres are essentially cultural in character.

Then it’s fast forward to 1968 and In The Ghetto by Mac (Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me) Davis. Once again the sophistication of the song’s structure is perfectly complemented by Rowles’s rich baritone, supported by lovely rolling guitar from Burton, and sensitive drumming from Tutt. Probably as good a version of this song as you are ever going to get in New Zealand in 2014.

Hardin gives the piano on Please Release Me an upbeat honky tonk feel which is far superior to the original lethargic version, followed by Love Me Tender and Tania, both of which are songs that make me think about things like how hard the seats in the Opera House are.

The music lights up again with Suspicious Minds which works for exactly the same reasons as You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, and In the Ghetto, especially as once again it shows another side to Burton’s guitar.

And then, surprise, there is no encore. I think the first time I’ve ever witnessed that happening (or not happening).

I can’t say I am too sad about that though. I tend to think encores are over-rated and often see concerts end well past the best point for endings thanks to a drawn out encore. I’m going to hang around to check out the band members in the foyer afterwards as they are going to be signing CDs, posters and so forth.

But I decide to flag it. The truth is, meeting musicians after a performance is almost always a disappointment. They’ve already shared their muse on the stage. They become mere mortals again, once the show is over.

 

Band Slam: Shindig and Venus in Transit

King Street Live, Masterton

May 2014

Shindig, King Street Live, Masterton, Wairarapa re-Views
Shindig

Band Slam has quickly turned into my favourite gig at King Street Live. Basically, three acts perform on the third Thursday of every month, with an hour for each act. Just two evenings in, it’s immediately become highly varied with a very high calibre of performance, at the same time having a pleasant low key informality about the night.

I missed Back to the Remedy, and arrived just as Shindig were into their first or second song, the Pretenders “I’m Special. I can’t find a website or Facebook page for Shindig although they do pop up online playing a various events in the Tararua district where they hale from. So I can’t even give the members’ names, anyway . . .

Between songs they are introduced by the female vocalist as “just a covers band playing something to suit everybody.” I find the term “covers band” a bit unfair to bands like Shindig. I think of covers bands as basically imitative in their approach – trying as hard as possible to sound like the original hit. I’m excited these days by today’s so-called covers bands. I love it when a band takes on an old song and gives it a fresh energy.

The female vocalist reminded me of some of the great pop vocalists of the 1960s and 1970s like Cher. What various gigs at King Street Live have been highlighting is just how many different styles of guitar playing there are today. Shindig’s lead guitarist has a classic rock style, to some degree reminiscent of Mick Ronson, with a warm rich full sound.

I pretty much love most of what they do on the night although The Monkey’s “I’m A Believer” comes across a bit flat. It just doesn’t have the right rhythm to suit the band. On the other hand, they do a fine version of Glen Frey’s The Heat Is On, a song I’ve heard a million times but never taken much notice of before. Except that their version made sense of the lyrics. The “heat” being turned on in waves of lust and street energy. It’s all in the energy your project around the lyrics.

“The heat is on, on the street/ Inside your head, on every beat/And the beat’s so loud, deep inside/ The pressure’s high, just to stay alive/ ‘Cause the heat is on”

“The shadow’s high on the darker side/ Behind those doors, it’s a wilder ride/ You can make a break, you can win or lose/ That’s a chance you take, when the heat’s on you/ When the heat is on”

Venus in Transit, King Street Live, Masterton, Wairarapa re-Views
Venus in Transit

Venus in Transit, by contrast, are children of rock’s evolution from the seventies to the present. There’s an intense guitar sound that could equally remind one of the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin, prog rock virtuosos Yes, the grunge of Smashing Pumpkins or even the neo-New Wave of Franz Ferdinand.

Nevertheless, there’s a definite pop element to their sound and like Franz Ferdinand, all they are looking for is one pop hit in the vein of Take Me Out, to get them noticed. I believe every band, no matter how alternative they may think they are, should attempt to conjure the magic of the pop hit single. It’s good discipline.

Venus in Transit sticks to the white side of rock for the most part but it’s interesting to note that the band wears Destiny Child’s Survivor extremely well, the song revealing a striking similarity between in voice between Shayna Tweed and Jennifer Lopez.

It’s music I can appreciate on the night for the calibre of the performance, although possibly a bit introvert and self involved in its lyrics, with a bit of sameness and predictability around the structure of the songs.

Apart from the calibre of each band, what impresses me is their professionalism in putting on such a high standard of performance for a very small audience.

 

John Rae Trio

John Rae Trio reviewed at King Street Live Masterton March 2014 by Wairarapa Reviews www.wairarapareviews.kiwi.nz

King Street Live Masterton March 2014

By David Famularo

I guess you can’t pay the John Rae Trio a bigger compliment than saying that listening to a night of them playing live, reconnected me with the spirit of jazz again.

Jazz, like Country, is one of those musical forms that is the foundation of all contemporary music. However, its moments in the sun are few and far between.

What I loved about the John Rae Trio was that they felt and sounded totally fresh but their roots in the history of the music were unmistakable from beginning to end, without being a self conscious revival of past jazz forms.

One moment you were hearing the “jungle” rhythms so beloved of big band era drummers like Gene Krupa. Next it was the smooth mature flavours of the 1960s Blue Note sound, then some Johnny Hodges-style late night sax, all driven by the virtuosity of John Rae’s drumming.

It’s quite remarkable that the three musicians have rarely played together, most of the preparation being the sharing of chord charts.

You would never have known that from the cohesion with which they played together, the rich cornucopia of notes spilling out of their instruments intermingling in the most natural way, and never feeling formulaic.

With just the three musicians on stage, everyone has to bring their share of the required ingredients to the mix for the music to work, and they achieved this successfully.

While tenor saxophonist Lucien Johnson’s tone could have been a bit fuller for my taste (the simple act of practicing long notes would help there), his improvisations never felt like simply a series of practised scale runs which is so often the case.

Patrick Bleakley was all over his double bass and brought out its lyrical qualities, as well as keeping time.

There was a real energy in the music from the get go that fitted my theory that any music, even the most intellectual should still make you want to dance.

The John Rae Trio felt danceable from the very first with a relentless forward driving energy that never let up.

There was a wonderful sensitivity to the music both in the improvisational compositions and acoustics of the instruments as the performance made its way through genres as diverse as ragtime, hard bop and the edges of freeform.

It should be noted that the two original compositions by Rae and Johnson were equal in interest to the more familiar jazz standards.

There was no encore as such, although I think the band underestimated how much the audience was in the mood for one.

My only real criticism is that the three musicians could try a bit harder with their stage appearance, having the look of three musos having a jam on a Saturday morning.

About the band

John Rae is one of New Zealand’s top composers, musician and band leader. Since finishing the Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards Composer-in-Residence at the New Zealand School of Music in July 2010, John continues to live and work in Wellington, New Zealand. Leader and composer for ‘The Troubles’ (www.thetroubles.co.nz), New Zealand’s premier contemporary jazz group, he has also been working and recording with the great Kiwi pianist Mike Nock and the New Zealand String Quartet.

Lucien Johnson is a saxophonist and composer from Wellington. He originally studied jazz at NZSM and went on to do a Masters degree in composition under Prof John Psathas. Lucien lived in Paris for six years from 2003 where he formed a trio with veteran American free jazz bass player Alan Silva and Japanese drummer Makoto Sato. He also made music for plays and short films, and his experiences included touring India with a clown troop and making music for a theatre show in Haiti.

Patrick Bleakley has been one of the most sought after bass players in New Zealand since the 1970s. His baptism of fire came through meeting iconic musician and actor Bruno Lawrence who soon inducted Bleakley into his band Blerta. During the 1970s he also played with several other well known groups such as Mammal, Rough Justice and Spatz and was for a time in the quartet of leading Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann.

After a spell away from music due to family commitments, Bleakley came back to playing bass in the 1990s, touring with Lawrence and pianist Jonathan Crayford in the band Jazzmin. Subsequently he played in the Jonathan Crayford Trio for many years, as well as the Razorblades, Sanctus and Village of the Idiots.

Brockaflowersaurus-Rex

King Street Live  Masterton March 2014

By David Famularo

It’s a comparatively late start for Brockaflowersaurus-Rex at King Street, around 10pm, with a warm up DJ set from Gareth Thompson-Darling, bearded trombonist with the band first, which I have to say was pretty nifty, even if it seemed like I was the only one getting into it. Mostly funk/soul based, it included Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s The Message which is always worth the price of entry.

When Brockaflower does make its way on to the stage, it’s a more aggressive flavour in the form of the staccato rap of Lorenzo Pradel over a heavy beat that morphs into melancholy sax lines towards the end.

Welcome to the musical world of Brockaflower which is nothing, if not eclectic. I think the band’s own description of its music – “psychedelic neo-soul hip-hop chunk funk fusion” is pretty much on the button, although you could throw in some jazz, and a touch of ethnomusicology as well.

The most important band member may in fact be drummer Thomas Friggens who has to hold the sometimes seemingly anarchic ensemble together through a variety of complex beats. The band is almost as eclectic visually as it is musically, from bohemian Yiddish, to neo-hippy, to Rianna-ish, to mid-eighties.

A musical collective that puts equal emphasis on musicianship, emotional soul and intellect, for the one and a half hours it is on stage, Brockaflower walks a fine line between the immediacy of grooves designed to keep the dance floor happy, and thinking music which is more of a strength on its first recording, Build It, released at the beginning of the year.

There are three predominant musical styles built around its four vocalists – Pradel’s rap, the white soul of Louis Baker, and R&B vocals of Zoe Moon Mahal and Estere Dalton. Unfortunately, the vocals on the night are quite muddy which is a shame as it’s almost impossible to make out the lyrics.

Sometimes the band swings toward a more Zero 7/Koop chill out flavour with a song like “Arrival”, while the long spacey electronica and nose flute intro of “Simply” feels more like a contemporary version of prog rock.

Band members float on and off the stage as the show progresses, giving the feeling of a collective of members enhancing each other’s ideas than a “band” as such.

Three quarters of the way through it is just Friggens, Ashton Sellars (guitar) and Pat Stewart (bass/synth/MPC) on stage as they noodle their way through some space jazz/rock jamming for some minutes on the intro to “Long Road Home” before Baker returns to the stage for the vocals, followed later by the rest of the band.

The driving spirit of Brockaflower is a quest for creating original compositions that can manage repeated listening on record. The live performance tousles up, and adds more of a raggedy edge to the somewhat laid back nature of what you will hear online at brockaflower.net

Mahal and Dalton bring genuine star power to the evening, Dalton in particular impressing with her chippy rapping vocals, and ability to seamlessly swing from one vocal rhythm to another, her ode to Peanut Butter probably my favourite song of the night.

The band’s “last” song of the night is a surprisingly slow one for that point in time, bringing the dance floor to a stop, but they make amends with the “Brockaflowerpower” song, a fat seventies-style soul funk that throws down everything bar the kitchen sink in the refrain.

The question for Brockaflowersaurus-Rex is that while there is oodles of potential to develop their songwriting further, can a big band like this hold it together long enough to fulfil it. If they can, I expect their next album will be another step up again.

 Members: Ashton Sellars – Guitar; Thomas Friggens – Drums/Samples; Pat Stewart – Bass/Synth/Mpc; Louis Baker – Vocals; Zoe Moon Mahal – Vocals; Estere Dalton – Vocals; Lorenzo Pradel – Alto Sax/Vocals; Blair Clarke – Tenor Sax/Flutes/Throat Singing; Gareth Thompson-Darling – Trombone

Renee Geyer February 2014

Kiwi Summer Soul Train: Renee Geyer, BIlly TK Junior & The Groove Shakers, Juice on the Loose, Murdoch James Estate Martinborough

This was the first time that Murdoch James Estate had held a vineyard concert, and in fact it was the first vineyard concert I had ever been to, so I didn’t know what to inspect.
My expectation was that there would be lots of people getting drunk on wine and being a bit obnoxious as alcohol tends to do to a lot of people.
But from the moment I drove into the winery everything was chilled out and pleasant – a laid back and non threatening atmosphere with lots of casually but well dressed ladies and gents plus a small number of children, alcohol sold from one tent and gourmet burgers at a stall.
The venue is a natural amphitheatre with a lake at one side and a steeply rising bank at the other, surrounded by mature trees.
The stage was a truck trailer on which Juice on the Loose was already pumping out some fat grooves by the time I arrived around 4pm.
I’d never heard of them but they are a testament to how New Zealand is producing some pretty amazing bands, each in its own niche genre.
I ended up talking to one of the band members, Bill, after their set, and it turned out that they are based in Auckland and comprise some very experienced New Zealand and British musicians.
Their internet bio says Juice was formed by Alan King who once upond a time played in various bands that shared the stage with some of the greatest musicians of the 1960s and 1970s including Jimi Hendrix and Cream.
Juice’s set was extended for another 35 minute which was great as it gave me some more time to enjoy them and allowed the band to stretch out to a funking hot version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me”, followed by Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman, and a general indulgence in soul boogaloo.
It was a pleasure and luxury to hear the Hammond organ filling out the sound, totally lifting the music, not just for Juice but throughout the night.
Next it was turn of Billy TK Junior and The Groove Shakers. It was Billy’s inspiration and energy that brought this line-up together for which he deserves a lot of kudos.
I’m not sure when was the last time Rene Geyer played New Zealand. Back in the 1970s I remember she was a regular visitor to this country but it was Billy TK Junior’s energy that brought her back after a long hiatus and it was obvious later in the night that it meant a lot to her to be back again.
I was familiar with Billy’s dad Billy TK Senior’s sixties psychedelic guitar but it was interesting to see Billy Junior carving out his own niche in the soul and R&B genre.
There was an element of the more traditional electric blues sound to some of The Groove Shakers numbers but I liked it best when they strayed into some classic rock including an excellent version of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine”, and Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman”.
It’s always great to hear classic rock songs freshened, revitalised and re-interpreted by a new generation’s energy.
Then as the dusk set in and an almost full moon rose over the lake, it was Renee Geyer’s turn to shine. By this time the pared down hardcore stage had been bathed in a delicate and erie blue light.
Geyer brought her own band which is an indication of her commitment to providing the best show possible, and pretty amazing given that the whole night’s entertainment was only $35.
I’m not sure how much Geyer has changed over the years but I’d describe the 2014 version as a cross between 1960s blues vocalist Christine Perfect (later to become better known as Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac) and 1980s Marianne Faithful.
There is a raw and abrasive edge to her personality and performance. At 60 years of age, and with 40 years in the business, she still holds nothing back, and on the night gave her all to her vocals.
The great thing about this venue is that you could go right up to the stage and mix it with the band, and retreat up to the side of the hill to hear the sound as clear as a bell.
It was from this vantage point that you could appreciate the sophisticated and highly nuanced arrangements of the band
Vocally, it’s very easy to get a bit messy in the heat of the moment, but Geyer and the band never sacrificed the musicianship although the energy was all about dancing.
Among the standouts were was BB Kings’s “The Thrill is Gone”, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia”, Phoebe Snow’s disco soul hit Standing on Shaky Ground, and 1970s Jimmie Cliff number “Sitting in Limbo”.
Geyer finished with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World” (not my favourite song, I have to admit), Billy TK Junior joining the band to play out the gig with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” ending a night of complete immersion in R&B.

David Famularo

 

 

 

White Ribbon Live

White Ribbon Live King Street Live Masterton November 2013 reviewed at Wairarapa re-Views – www.wairarapareviews.kiwi.nz
Electric Wire Hustle

King Street Live, Masterton

November 2013

Matiu Te Huki, Warren Maxwell, Electric Wire Hustle

 By David Famularo

Spiritual is how I would describe White Ribbon Live, which may seem ironical, given the reason for the concert was something so worldly and harsh. But then again, the nature of the event was a rising up of spirit.

And that message came out loud and clear throughout the night, in the music and two striking speeches by Brian Gardner, Senior Programme Advisor Family Violence Unit, and Judge Peter Boshier.

First up was Matiu Te Huki whom Warren Maxwell had many positive words for in the interview I conducted with him before the show. By the end of Te Huki’s set, you could understand why. I arrived well into it, and wasn’t connecting in any serious way while I bought my gin and tonic at the bar.

But whether the music went up another level or I was just more concentrated (I suspect the former as I tend to pick up on things when they are happening), Matiu was on fire by the last few numbers. I liked the way he set up a playback with his guitar and then accompanied it with a poiawhiowhio (gourds with holes twirled on a string, this instrument imitates various bird songs depending on size and shape of the gourd).

His final number was as soulful and melodic as anything I’ve heard live in quite some time. Really, an electrifying performance. He’s a musician with a rare stage charisma that encompasses leadership qualities that were appropriate to the evening – a genuine musical voice. Matiu set the bar high for those who followed.

At this point there were two stunning koreros from Peter Gardner and Peter Boshier, the first speaking personally from his own journey away from abusive behaviour to encouraging others to stop. The second adding a note of optimism that society is recognising the issues and taking steps to deal with them, at the same time as reminding the audience that just the day before a woman in Wellington had been killed by her partner, an all too familiar event.

Warren Maxwell is nothing, if not laidback, and he drew the music back inside again. Typically sensitive and focused. I’m a fan of Maxwell’s music but more through his band Little Bushman. He starts off with a couple of their numbers, after the first displaying his talent for connecting with even a large audience in a very personal manner, with a paean to the pleasures of life in Featherston. Nice to hear, especially as it is the town people in the Wairarapa seem to find most pleasure in putting down.

He followed that with another Little Bushman song from their latest album Te Oranga. I remember Nick Bollinger reviewing it on The Sampler on Nights on National Radio where he highlighted its unusual bringing together of American roots music and Te Reo. Nothing felt incongruous about the hillbilly banjo accompaniment and bluesy Te Reo vocals on the album’s title song Te Oranga, instead the two feeling as harmonious as my gin & tonic.

I think its an example of Maxwell’s philosophy of using musical arrangements as a means to share the spirit, rather than just musical virtuosity. Typically, he then travelled a few thousand kilometres south of the border for his next Tango flavoured tune where he mimicked the accompanying instruments from his New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performance of it.

Maxwell finished the set off with his best song of the night – Little Things – which through a bit of synchronicity, a colleague had brought up in a conversation at work only a few days before – “It’s all those little things that build up ……when you feel your blood boiling, talk to your partner.”

At this point I should mention that the stage arrangement was simple but very effective – a White Ribbon banner in the background and various lamps with almost 1890s deco shades working to beautiful and homely effect. The only flaw as such was that there was no space reserved for dancing at the front of the stage, instead tables and chairs, which deflated any chance of giving the next band – Electric Wire Hustle – the compliment and complement of rhythmic bodies.

Electric Wire Hustle, who found time in the middle of touring to donate one of their nights off to the cause, started off with a slow number before cranking things up a notch with a groove that was almost a cross between Steve Winwood and Hall & Oats. Like Winwood, Mara TK has a very soulful voice. Winwood is also a very soulful organ/keyboard player. In that gig his organ lifted up the music like air pressure gives lift to the wings of a plane. Sadly, Taay Ninh’s keyboard was a bit lost in the mix at some moments when hearing it stand out would have been perfect.

The song ended with Mara TK saying he had forgotten to use his expensive monitor – “I got lost in the spirit” – I could understand that. Likewise his korero on the White Ribbon theme (men speaking out against violence toward women) was highly inspiring and personal. The band was proud to fly its political colours too, with a plea for the audience to do everything it can before the next election to get a change of government.

Electric Wire Hustle’s musical arrangements are highly complex, to the point at times of challenging, although they never lose their essential groove as a band you can dance to, and it was when their music flowed that I enjoyed them best. Bass player Myele Manzana takes a highly melodic approach to his craft. Drummer Philadelphia’s Mario Crew has the professionalism of your mainstream drummer but an edge that makes him a great partner for the more raggedy character of the band. I’ve had many year’s of pleasure pillaring drum solos, but his was totally engaging.

I mentioned Mara TK has some of the soul of Winwood but he is a closer companion to early 1980s British soul, aka some of the New Romantics vocalists, and there is more than a passing resemblance to mid-1980s Paul Weller. Unlike is dad Billy TK, Mara uses his guitar more as a lyrical element of the overall structure of the songs than an axe to solo with.

Towards the end of the set Maxwell comes on with his saxophone which initiates a good long boogie on a more simple chord structure than hitherto during the set, with a lot of intuitive sympathy between Maxwell and the other musicians to the point where he seems like part of the band.

Maxwell’s runs display his jazz schooling but he never crosses the line into pure showmanship. A couple of encores, and the night is over, after an evening of music that really did its cause proud.