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Greg Johnson - Gig Review: Greg Johnson @ The Pumphouse Theatre, Auckland

23 Oct 2018 // A review by butch181

The long labour weekend was coming to an end, and what better way to spend the free Monday than with an early afternoon musical performance. Heading down the track towards Takapuna’s Pumphouse along the edges of Lake Pupuke, the carpark was full, and the venue was packed with fans eager for the show, long before the event was due to begin. With doors opening at 4pm, and every member of the audience already present and waiting to take a seat in the theatre; it is safe to say that this was a highly anticipated sold-out event.

The opening act for the night came in the form of the alternative folk duo known as Eyreton Hall. This brother sister combo provided a simple set, consisting of five songs (one of which was a cover). Of the two, Toni Randle was clearly the showman, contributing the vocals, keys, and all of the banter with the crowd, while brother Tim provided support of guitar and bass.

The only drumming of percussion in the performance coming from their own synchronised tapping feet, their set was rather relaxed and emotive, with an astonishing vocal performance from Toni. Using some good breathing techniques, Toni’s voice never wavered, and never felt forced, and no notes pushed. It was a stellar vocal performance, yet still felt like she was only working at 70% of what she was capable of; it fitted in well with the style of music, but it leaves with a curiosity as to what she could do if she experimented with the extremes of her range.

The played through originals such as Spaces, Beautiful, as well doing a very impressive adaptation of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, a version that was instrumentally so different, that if it weren’t for the lyrics (or them mentioning it), I would have been unable to distinguish it as a cover. Not the best performance from Tim, looking rather aloof and detached on stage, but it went largely unnoticed as Toni consistently stole the spotlight, track after track.

This made the way for headlining act Greg Johnson, back from Los Angeles for eight shows around New Zealand, as part of the Every Song Has A Story tour. The name of the tour is a very accurate description of what you can expect from the show, as Greg takes his time between every track to chat and banter about each track.  

Considering Greg Johnson had a nearly two-hour set, the setlist wasn’t overly compact, with less than 20 songs, heavy with banter, and an intermission thrown in the middle of the performance as well. Whether hearing the story behind Now The Sun Is Out and owing a quarter of a million to a record company, coming face to face with Mountain Lion (or maybe a raccoon), or mis-understood tracks such as Hibiscus Song, whose lyrical influence is much more morbid than the love affairs that his fans often thought it was about, every song has a story, and often a few extra unrelated stories as well.

Performance-wise there were a few teething issues, with the odd confusion about tuning and capo placements between Greg and his special guess guitarist Ben King (of Goldenhorse), and the visualisations for each track coming to an end well before the song concludes, due to the extensive banter beforehand. But Greg Johnson, has been doing this for nearly 30 years, and instantly turns every technical issue into a talking point, building a rapport with the audience thanks to his ever-present charisma.

It wouldn’t be a Greg Johnson show without performing his biggest mainstream hit Save Yourself or Silver Scroll Award winner, Liberty, which he did one after the other before heading into the intermission. Ben King worked hard on the guitar trying to keep Johnson on track, but apart from some nice vocal harmonies, it was interesting that Johnson needed another musician on stage with him, especially with the level of backing tracks used (or “band-in-a-box”, as he referred to it), most notably on the track that require Johnson to play the trumpet.

No matter how redundant King’s presence felt, the performance was engaging from start to finish, and the audience were hanging off of every word. Finishing their main performance, they headed off stage, but the crowd would have none of it and started chanting, cheering and stamping their feet until Johnson came out one last time, performing Swagger for an encore performance.

Photos courtesy of Chris Zwaagdyk/Zed Pics


About Greg Johnson

While many musical fashions and styles have come and gone over the last 30 years, Greg Johnson has consistently maintained a unique style and place in the music world. Quintessentially New Zealand but also universal by nature, his sound and lyrics are both deeply personal while maintaining a broad appeal to his many listeners.

His catalogue of over 300 songs includes many Kiwi classics such as Isabelle, Don’t Wait Another Day, Swagger and Now The Sun is Out with several becoming radio hits in New Zealand and the US.

His 11th studio album Swing The Lantern is a return to the style of production employed on earlier albums, where a band of players get together over several weeks to record the songs in a big studio all at once. The result captures the interactive nuances between players, the mood representing a moment in time - much like the perfect live concert.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Greg Johnson


Low Frequency Word
Year: 2017
Type: EP
Swing The Lantern
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Some Other Place, Some Other Time
Year: 2014
Type: Album
Year: 2012
Type: Album
Secret Weapon
Year: 2010
Type: Album
Greatest Hits
Year: 2009
Type: Album
Seven Day Cure
Year: 2008
Type: Album
Anyone Can Say Goodbye
Year: 2006
Type: Album
Here Comes The Caviar
Year: 2004
Type: Album
The Best Yet
Year: 2001
Type: Album
Seabreeze Motel
Year: 2000
Type: Album
Chinese Whispers
Year: 1997
Type: Album
Year: 1993
Type: Album
Vine Street Stories
Year: 1993
Type: Album
Everyday Distortions
Year: 1992
Type: Album

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