King Street Live, Masterton
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.