After listening to and adoring the wondrous tunes of David Kelley’s ‘project’, 2 a.m. Orchestra, for the past couple of years now, I finally got to see the band in all their glory – live at Hamilton’s Go Vino as part of their EP release tour around the North Island. Their performance was flawless and as tight as my dry clean only jeans that I put through the wash, so you can imagine my absolute delight to hold in my hands their EP – Fire Escape.
Since yesterday, I’ve listened to it probably ten times over, and to be honest, the thought of writing this review gets me all nervous thinking that I won’t be able to do it justice. You see, what these guys do is more than just music. They create a feeling that isn’t dissimilar to the end result of putting yourself through a tumble dryer. You come out feeling warm, fluffy, and ready to go back for a second round.
This is one EP that I’ll listen to many times over and will never become bored of starting with the first track, Fire Escape. The acoustic tune begins with Kelley’s beautifully distinctive vocals before lead guitarist;Tim Gittins joins in perfect harmony creating an absolute heart-warming experience to say the least. With an interesting mix of instruments and thought provoking lyrics, this tune will never get tired and will definitely outlive your wash machine.
Fortune & Glory follows – equally as intriguing and a little more ‘meaty’ than the previous track showing a slightly different and somewhat darker side to the band. With fond memories of Man on the Moon, which they performed at Go Vino so effortlessly, this tune is a real treat and again proves that simplicity always wins over heavy amped up ‘noise’. Kelley, Gittins and Bern’s fingerpicking is delicate, precise and about as smooth as Lindt Milk Chocolate.
The last tune on this well compiled disc titled I Can’t Sleep is Charming with a capital C. It’s fresh and innocent and just so damn cute - from the Ukulele strummed by Kelley, down to the sweet sweet lyrics. Upbeat and playful, I Can’t Sleep is the perfect end to a perfect EP, or tumble dry cycle – if you think like me. If you’ve not already discovered the wondrous 2 a.m. Orchestra, you’ve been missing out big time – get the EP.
Based on an epidemic of insomnia-inflicting inspiration, “2 a.m. Orchestra” was the name Kelley chose while working on some recordings in early 2000. Just prior to the release of what would be the first album (2 a.m. Orchestra, 2001), Kelley formed and prepped a band to play in support of the release. From that time, the live line-up has varied widely, from a 2-piece snare drum and guitar duo, to an over-achieving, instrument-swapping five-piece. Kelley did a number of U.S. tours with these various line-ups, and even a solo tour, braving the bitterest weeks of winter sleeping in a van, eating bologna, and trying not to doze off during the long drives. Such personnel fluctuations continued on up through the 2nd full-length release, Impermanence (2005), which proved to be an apt, if not intentional title as the ever-changing live show became the band’s most noted characteristic.
At times, 2 a.m. Orchestra has been a rock band, as was the 2008 line up—an LA-based four piece with a turbo-charged rhythm section, gritty vocals and surf-tone guitars. Other times, 2 a.m. Orchestra resembles something like an acoustic folk group, as was the case with the 2010 incarnation—an Auckland-based trio that catered to intimate crowds with the whispers of mandolin, ukulele, cello, violin, piano and slide guitar. One might label the music presented by this unique combination of instruments “chamber-pop,” with its captivating string arrangements—often lullabyesque and sometimes spooky. The group’s acoustic sets feature songs both prior releases as well as brand new material. One such performance was released under the radar, "Live at Lopdell House Theater," (recorded in Titirangi) free to fans via the 2 a.m. Orchestra FB page.
What's next? Yet another incarnation of the band emerges mid-2013 with the release of "Working To Divide," the third full-length studio album which showcases the same characteristic ornate arrangements, but with new explosive rock textures. The new line up will feature Tim Gittins and Chris Dawson, two members who have teamed up regularly with Kelley since 2009, as well as Andy Smith on lead guitar.The single "Heads & Tails," enjoyed nationwide radio support in New Zealand and was included on the Kiwi HIt Disc compilation. The animated music video received rave reviews and months of airplay on C4. The more recent single "Ain't Got The Fight," was also included on a Kiwi Hit Disc in 2013. The band will be doing both acoustic and rock shows in support, continuing their theme of rearranging songs and sounds, evolving and recreating, ensuring the audience has a new experience at each and every show.