22 Oct 2019

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  • The Phoenix Foundation - Gig Review: The Phoenix Foundation w/ The NZSO, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland 03/08/2018

The Phoenix Foundation - Gig Review: The Phoenix Foundation w/ The NZSO, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland 03/08/2018

04 Aug 2018 // A review by butch181

Wandering into the Auckland Town Hall, there was a definite sense of anticipation in the air. Though the halls weren’t overly crowded with patrons, everybody appeared to be buzzing and chatting away excitedly. Soon enough, the bell was rung to alert everyone that the show would soon be starting, and the seats slowly started to fill one by one. The audience was a demographic mix, although it was certainly skewed more towards the older age group, and there was an assortment of attire, with a few top-end suits and dresses present, but largely the crowd was dressed in casual wear and large coats to stave off the cold weather outside.

One by one, members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) took their seats on stage and prepared their instruments. The chatter was immense as the audience waited for the show to begin, creating a buzz that could drown out any show. But once the orchestra was fully seated, and the lights dimmed, an impressive hush fell upon the audience (with the exception of one likely inebriated heckler in the back of the upper balcony).

Wellington’s The Phoenix Foundation entered from the left side of stage alongside the NZSO’s Associate Conductor Hamish McKeich and received a rapturous applause. Not feeling the need to slowly work their way in, the set started with the orchestra taking full control of the instrumental track, Hitchcock. While I have seen many attempts to create a hybrid of modern music with the orchestra in recent years, most of the time the orchestra serve no real purpose, often getting drowned out by the electric instruments. This was not the case tonight. The Phoenix Foundation were almost corralled into the front and centre of the stage, trapped by a semicircle of coloured lights, with a platoon of violin and violas to their right, an assembly of cellos and double bass on their left, the cluster of woodwinds directly behind them, followed by the brass section and the percussion duo flying overhead.

The NZSO looked dominant and intimidating, and they certainly didn’t hold back, making use of their numbers to creating a show of strength against the band that were armed with an assortment of microphones, amps, and electric instruments. Because that is what the people came to see. We weren’t there to just see a show by The Phoenix Foundation. That has been on show for the last 20 years. The audience were there for the NZSO.

Rather than a fight between the two factions, or a clear overpowering of one over the other, there was evidence of proper collaborations between them. Taking turns at times, and then working in unison, the evening showed every combination of band and orchestra possible. It was interesting to see a band held to such a strict standard of timing, with no room for banter or extended bridges throughout the first four tracks; Controlled by McKeich’s conducting everything flowed well, with the NZSO only resting during Cars Of Eden, allowing the band to grab the limelight and have freedom for the remainder of the track.

Dressed in a baby blue striped suit and a straw boater hat, main vocalist Samuel Flynn Scott took every opportunity to banter with the audience, chatting about how he had always wanted to dress up as Elton John on stage, before Morning Pages started with a captivating harp performance by Carolyn Mills. The strings sections worked together really well, but the true stand-out instrument sections came from the brass and percussion, which added depth and majesty to their sections. Whether it was running between the xylophone, marimba and the gong, or using their hands as instruments when the brass were not needed, they stole the show at many points.

The setlist covered songs from the debut album, such as St Kevin, Let Me Die A Woman, and Wildlife, as well as showcasing two brand new tracks Transit of Venus, and Miserable Meal. There were times when the NZSO would build their ranks so dramatically that you could not hold back a smile as the music filled you. They closed of their set with Give Up Your Dreams before making a hasty exit from the stage. Not happy to end it like that the crowd were quick to start chanting and stamping for an encore performance, and in less than a minute, the band re-emerged in time to have a member of the crowd demand a song request, to which they responded with “yeah I’ll just arrange it and make 60 copies for the orchestra”. They ended with Eventually and Buffalo, which received an instant applause from the crowd which recognised them straight away.

Arguably, the vocal microphones could have been reduced in volume slightly as they were overbearing at times, and there could have been a little more work for the brass section, but without a doubt, this is the best balance in a modern/orchestral hybrid event that I have been present. 

Review written by Alex Moulton
Photos by Chris Morgan Photography


About The Phoenix Foundation

"Surely the most potent band to come out of New Zealand since the far-off days of the Chills… Gorgeous" ***** 5 Stars - The Independent Newspaper, UK (27/11/09)

"This record is like the beautiful feeling of falling asleep in a hammock out the back of a faded old beach house and dreaming of epic vistas and love affairs… a beautiful record indeed." - Neil Finn – Crowded House/Split Enz

"It swerves gently from kooky guitar sing-alongs to languid psychedelia, it pauses for effect on elegant sad-eyed piano ballads and cinematic synthesizer swirls, it locks itself in its bedroom for a sulk but then it's skipping happily around the backyard just as the sun comes out. Sometimes that's all in the course of one track …" 5 stars

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for The Phoenix Foundation


Give Up Your Dreams
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Tom's Lunch
Year: 2014
Type: EP
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Year: 2013
Type: Album
Year: 2010
Type: Album
Merry Kriskmass
Year: 2009
Type: Album
Happy Ending
Year: 2007
Type: Album
Year: 2005
Type: Album
Year: 2003
Type: LP
China Cove
Year: 2001
Type: EP

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