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Fables - Gig Review: Fables @ The Wine Cellar, Auckland

11 Sep 2018 // A review by butch181

Stepping through the door of Auckland’s Wine Cellar, I was caught off-guard. Gone was the empty floor space and in its place were several rows of seats, already nearly full with what looks like a number of friends and family. Not often you find such a strong turnout at the Wine Cellar, especially so early in the night. With some slow folk music playing in the background, and footage of unfurling and blossoming flowers projected onto the back wall we awaited the opening acts to begin

First performance of the night came from duo, Beth and Taine. Starting a few minutes early, they opened their set with a cover of KT Tunstall’s 2004 hit, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. Beth’s voice is incredibly striking; with immense strength and control, the calibre of her voice was unexpected. Props to the man behind the sound desk, the night was empty of static or any other electrical interference, and it really provided extra depth and clarity to the vocal performances for the night.

Beth and Taine continued on with their set with further covers of Ella Fitzgerald’s Dream A Little Dream Of Me, and The Beatles’ 1996 classic, Come Together. Despite the duo’s instruments consisting of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and two microphones, they were able to provide a soul/jazz fusion that entertained the seated masses. They ended their set with an original track; some great phrasing and flow on show in the verses, and despite a substantial change in tempo in the pre-chorus, the strength of her voice in the chorus left the audience enraptured. The track could potentially look to make better use of silence to give enough space for the full impact of the vocals to have an effect, but otherwise a very enjoyable set.

With no need for any change of equipment, the changeover for the second act was instantaneous, and Fern took to the stage. Armed with nothing but a microphone, she shared a selection of poetry. Her first choice was Your Stupid Spray a scathing retort against the males that spray the strong scented deodorants in close proximity to her. Comedic in her display of annoyance and frustration, she elicited many chuckles from the crowd.

Taking a more serious turn in topic, Fern spoke in Jesus Morningstar about a bad experience with a dangerous cult that preyed on young women, before switching again in Substance to talk discuss a would-be authors lack of depth in characters and plot. This is the first time I have come across poetry as an opening act, but the experience works surprisingly well.

Without music, the audience are forced to pay attention to the words being spoken, otherwise losing out on the entire experience. Calling out James Geluk to pull out the double bass, the last piece in Fern’s set was a song called Drama Queen. Fern performed on the acoustic guitar, alongside the double bass. A brilliant songwriter, Fern is a remarkable storyteller for such a young woman, with a soft clean voice, and a good vocal range. Her confidence in her abilities is palpable, and it has a positive effect on engaging the audience.

The final opening performance for the night comes in the form of Kirsten Warner. Another poetic performance, Kirsten has more of a long prose method of poetry, with free verse narratives. Starting with an ode of sorts to Sid the Cockatoo at the Dunedin Aviary, who taught the toucan to talk. Kirsten provides a one-sided dialogue that looks at the opposing behaviour of two different cockatoos that could be linked to their treatment from their owners.

Moving on with In A Nutshell, Kirsten spoke of effects and personifications of certain types of nuts. A unique performance, while denser and more complex than Fern’s work. The second part of Kirsten’s routine brought partner Bernie Griffen of Bernie Griffen and the Thin Men to the stage. Armed with two guitars, they played a short set which included tracks such as Sweet Obsession and My Brain Exploded.

With simple strumming rhythm, and some technical finger picking lead, Bernie and Kirsten provided the yin and yang of the song, with a mirrored fashion in the vocals; Bernie has a deep rumbling drawl, compared to Kirsten’s higher melodies. Almost like listening to two adaptations of a song at once, you can certainly feel that the track is missing elements that the Thin Men would normally provide, but it worked well for an intimate setting such as the Wine Cellar. After exiting the stage, for the first time in the night, after 3 back-to-back opening acts, the audience were given the opportunity for a break, as the stage was prepared for the headlining act.

Fables was the final act for the night and are fronted by Jess Bailey. Jess was the first to come up on stage with an acoustic guitar and she summoned Finn McLennan-Elliott to join her on the clarinet to perform The Way That I Do. Rather soft spoken, Jess’ vocal style is reminiscent to that of Dido, with husky quiet tones, but an excitingly piercing melody when she unleashes the high notes.

The purpose of the evening being to promote the launch of their debut EP Portraits, the set included all tracks from the release. As Jess moved on to How to be Comfortable, she sent away Finn, and called out for more band members, bringing in Pearl Hindley on the violin, Laurence Diack on the cello, James Geluk returned on the double bass, Victoria Vigenser was up front for backing vocals and a hand drum (perhaps a bodhran) among others. As the set progressed, band members were sent away and brought in, with each track having a different line-up on stage.

A messy set logistically, with a lot of accumulated downtime and confusion over who was playing and what songs were being played, but musically, the sound was angelic. Jess’ voice worked well and was well backed by the strings and percussion sections. Fables is almost an orchestral event with backing vocalists (Chris Dent from Albi & The Wolves among them) bringing the number of people on stage up to twelve at one point. The end of each track was met by rapturous applause from the audience, among catcalls and whistles.

The set was largely participatory, with many of the Friends of Fable being called out of the audience to join in on stage to thicken the sound adding more depth and volume, as well as getting the remaining audience to sing along. Every portion of their sound was backed up, with multiple string instruments, several percussive elements, and a plethora of vocal harmonies. Far from folk music, Fables is a multi-instrumental soundscape; a multitude of layers.

The crowd were impassioned, cheering at every opportunity, and it created an atmosphere that Fables thrived in. Not an ounce of nervousness was present, beyond forgetting the lyrics to the final verse of Home (which was a request from the audience and not originally in the set), and the night was a fun evening from start to finish.

Photos and review courtesy of Alex Moulton.


About Fables

Fables, a musical ensemble from the outskirts of Auckland. Fronted by Jess Bailey and accompanied by a cast of many talents. Fables produce a gentle and heartfelt indie-folk sound which could warm even the coldest of hearts.

The small ensemble has shared the stage with modern folk notables Great North, The Remarkables, Chris Priestley and Nadia Reid, with performances at the home of Auckland folk, The Bunker.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Fables


Year: 2018
Type: EP

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