25 Mar 2019
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Gig Review: Milk & Honey @ Powerstation, Auckland - 08/03/2019

11 Mar 2019 // A review by Jacquie Walters

The line-up at the Powerstation for the inaugural Milk and Honey Festival to mark International Women’s Day was undoubtedly stellar. Ria Hall, Tami Neilson, Julia Deans (with Anna Coddington) and Nadia Reid interspersed with contributions from DJ Sandy Mill - you’d be hard pushed to pack more talent into an evening than that.


The organisers delivered on their kaupapa of putting women front, centre, and behind the stage (and also, notably, on security detail). At one point, reacting to the visible presence of women in all roles Anna Coddington remarked “this must be what it feels like to be male”.


What was missing, to some extent at least, was an audience in the numbers that might have been expected given the calibre of artists on the bill. That was a shame, because 'the packed house that might have been' missed a glorious evening.

Ria Hall’s voice was magnificent, and her commanding solo stage presence brought an integrity and mana to proceedings. Her set featured songs from her album Rules of Engagement including Te Kawa o te Riri, Black Light, Barely Know and my personal favourite Te Ahi Kai Po, a deeply beautiful and poignant song which won Hall and collaborators Tiki Taane and Te Ori Paki the APRA Maioha award last year.

Tami Neilson and her wonderful band followed, Tami resplendent in a silver tassel jacket and yellow dress. Neilson is a performer who takes no prisoners and tonight was no exception. She delivered a blistering set starting with Miss Jones from her acclaimed 2018 album Sassafrass!.

The set list on International Women’s Day could not possibly have been complete with Bananas, Neilson’s take on sexism in the music industry. Her stunningly sensitive reflection on her ancestor followed in A Woman’s Pain before a rollicking Kitty Cat rocked the crowd. Neilson’s rewrite of a verse of Betty Newsome and James Brown’s This Is A Man’s Man’s Man’s World absolutely brought the house down.

It was also wonderful to hear new material from Neilson, including Big Boss Mama released on the day of the gig itself and You Were Mine. Neilson’s set was pure class from start to finish.

Julia Deans and band (featuring Anna Coddington) were up next with Deans admitting to the crowd that Neilson was a tough act to follow. The vocal harmonies at the start of Walking in the Sun from her 2018 release We Light Fire provided a cracking opening. The Wish You Wish You Had and Modern Fables were outstanding. Deans has an endearing humility in her patter between songs, but it’s all rockstar professional once the music starts. She’s a fantastic musician and songwriter in addition to the clarity and range of her distinctive voice which she uses to such great effect.

Rounding out the evening with a challenging start time of 11:20pm-ish was Nadia Reid. The crowd had thinned a little (where is people’s staying power?) but those that remained were richly rewarded. Reid’s choice to start her set with a largely unaccompanied version of the civil rights song I’m Gonna Sit At the Welcome Table with its mention of milk and honey was inspired. Richard followed with Reid’s gorgeous vocals rolling out towards the audience like an exquisitely woven carpet. Track of the Time was delicious however the highlight of the set for me was The Arrow and the Aim. Reaching into the back catalogue Reid also performed Ruby from her 2014 debut album before closing the night with Right On Time.

Congratulations to the Milk and Honey festival organisers for assembling such a wonderful line-up of singer-songwriters and musicians. It was a terrific evening amply illustrating the incredible depth of talent with which we are blessed in Aotearoa.


Photos courtesy to Chris Zwaagdyk/Zed Pics

 

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