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Thomas Oliver - Gig Review: Thomas Oliver @ The Tuning Fork, Auckland 05/05/2017

07 May 2017 // A review by butch181
On a lovely brisk Friday evening I find myself sitting outside of the Tuning Fork, adjacent to the recently renamed Spark Arena in Auckland. The skies dark but clear, as I wait by the gas heaters for the opening artist to take to the stage. A few sounds are heard originating from inside, and the people waiting in the outdoor area swarm through the doors. Clearing the table, I make my way inside the venue.

First act of the night goes by the name Ed Zuccollo. Noticing the large amount of musical equipment on stage, it is clear that everything has been set up for the headliner Thomas Oliver. A quick glance at the event details, and it becomes apparent that the opening act is actually the keyboard musician from the band that will be performing with Thomas Oliver later in the evening. As a solo performer, Ed Zuccollo provides beautiful scenic loops of music, with many parts recorded himself, whether it is the sound of a thunderstorm in the track South of the North, or native wildlife, all adding to the breadth and fullness of the tracks. Each track he creates came with an accompanying explanation and story behind it, whether the explanation is nothing but an inquisition towards what the words Unshaven Existence could mean, such as a dog that has never undergone a surgery.

He puts forward an intriguing set of sounds, that relaxes the audience, and while his music seems to serve well as ambient noise that could easily merge into the background, his enthusiasm and banter engage with the crowd that have taken to sitting on the floor to properly appreciate the sounds. As he finishes his set and exits the stage, I move forward towards the front and prepare for the main event.

As everything was set up already, there was a short turnaround before Thomas Oliver came up on stage. First checking the tuning of his many various guitars, before disappearing off stage to re-emerge with more band members (Ed Zuccollo returns with Bella Florence). Starting the set with Budapest is Beautiful, the crowd has instantly shifted forwards, with many of the women moving straight towards the front of the stage, cheering and cat-calling loudly. Thomas Oliver's singing style is high into the falsetto range, but he sings with confidence and conviction, with nary a waver in his voice. Bella Florence accentuates this performance with some backing vocals, that are used rarely, but perfectly placed; adding layers to the production without taking emphasis away from Thomas Oliver himself. Ed Zuccollo returns to the stage on the keyboard, creating a simple network of music that is clean and easy to listen to.

After the first couple of songs were completed, two more of the band took to the stage, picking up the bass and drums, completing the ensemble. A couple of covers were played during the night, including a cover of Bob Marley's Is This Love that Thomas Oliver did for Stir It Up - Aotearoa's Tribute to Bob Marley, released towards the end of last year. This was followed by a hilarious choice of cover; Talking Heads Take Me to the River, which just got me thinking about the joke gift singing billy bass. As they moved from one song to the next, Thomas Oliver changed instrument, from standing with the ordinary guitars, to sitting for the lap steel guitars, and back again several times.

The audience themselves seemed mesmerized, remaining deathly silent during the tracks, until there was a moment of hush when they would erupt into applause and cheers. Oliver himself described it as "delightfully attentive", even though the silence did make it harder to gauge the interest from the crowd. Credit to Oliver, he is happy to provide acknowledgements to the band members that were assisting him on the night. While he only mentioned his own name once, when he first started to play, he called out for an applause for them on numerous occasions. By the end of the night we had no doubt that Bella Florence was on backing vocals, Ed Zuccollo was on the keys, Johnny Lawrence was on bass guitar, and Sam Notman was on the drums.

The only real drawback to the night's performance came from his rendition of Bad Talkin' Man; the first song that I really remembered well from his earlier days in the Thomas Oliver Band. Each song beforehand, had included some delightful little solos where the musicians got to showcase their talents above and beyond the requirements of the songs, but it went to the extreme with Bad Talkin' Man. Leading into the song, we had been warned "free-styling would occur", and each band member had their moment in the spotlight, one after another, after another, after another, before Thomas Oliver got the crowd to sing four lines of the chorus back to him, again and again. It took an estimated 10-15 minutes to reach the point in the song where the crowd were asked to sing along, and the crowd were quickly tiring of the spectacle after the 9th or 10th time repeating the same four lines of lyrics. A nice idea, but poorly executed when the single song ended up lasting 20+ minutes.

With two songs left in the set after the marathon that was Bad Talkin' Man, the crowd was reinvigorated, dancing and cheering again, calling for an encore after the set was completed. A successful night, and Thomas Oliver encouraged the audience to say hi afterwards. A true showman, a talented musician, and backed by skilled band members. With the exception of that one track, a fun night was had by all.

About Thomas Oliver

Thomas Oliver is internationally recognised as one of the leading players of the Weissenborn lap-steel guitar and a multi-talented guitarist, songwriter and singer.

In 2013 Oliver released the first full-length, all instrumental, all Weissenborn album, titled Beneath The Weissenborn. The album debuted at #6 in the NZ charts, received 5* reviews and sold out shows across the nation.

"He joins Leo Kotke, Ry Cooder and Michael Hedges as someone who has made buying a guitar album a must "– ***** Stuff.co.nz

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Thomas Oliver


Floating In The Darkness
Year: 2017
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Beneath The Weissenborn
Year: 2013
Type: Album

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