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  • Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking for Alaska @ Anthology, Auckland - 6/11/2020

Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking for Alaska @ Anthology, Auckland - 6/11/2020

07 Nov 2020 // A review by Kev Rowland

This was my first trip to the famous Anthology in K Road, and I soon found a spot at the bar to be able to see and perch my notebook, which was immediately improved when the barman grabbed a stool and asked me if I wanted to sit inside the barrier. From there I could see Kendall Elise tuning her guitar and it was obvious she was incredibly nervous, due to this being her first live show in ages. She kicked off the evening with Between Hello and Goodbye, and her lovely warm voice and strummed guitar immediately started to capture a groove. She was soon relaxed and filling the venue with her wonderful country, folk, singer-songwriter material.

Something's Gotta Give was far more melancholic, with strong consideration to poignant lyrics. In many ways she reminds me of Miss Peach and The Travellin Bones and I can imagine the two of them playing interesting sets together. There was real depth in her music, power in her vocals, and a warmth in her approach. You Got To Be A Little Mad would have benefited from someone on upright bass, although it had some nice changes in tempo, but in no way did it prepare me for the next song which actually me a few bars to work out what it was, as Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark has never been deconstructed like that. Kendall turned it into a totally different song altogether and was incredibly delicate. The highlight of the evening was Red Earth, the title cut of her last album, which made me think of Johnny Cash and its steam train-driven pace while the picked Slippery Creek was also wonderful. When working as a support act it can be hard with just an acoustic guitar and vocals to get an audience to listen to you, but Kendall did a fine job tonight and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.

After the fastest changeover I have seen in some time, up came Albi & The Wolves. I was really looking forward to this, as it has been more than five years since I last saw them play, and I was excited to hear they recently signed to AAA Records. When violinist/vocalist Pascal Roggen finished a sentence by Chris Dent (vocals, guitar) they both laughed and said they had been playing together for too long (the line-up is completed of course by double bassist Micheal Young), and when they started playing that familiarity was obvious.

Plaintive violin led us into Holding On which had strong harmony vocals and many different styles with it. The confidence was palpable, a group of musicians who intimately know what each brings to the performance,  what they are going to do, and that they can totally rely on the others to deliver. Playing multiple shows all over the country also means they have developed their stagecraft, so even though the band were fairly static (Chris also provides a bass drum pedal with his foot) the audience were soon on the move, getting ever closer to the stage. They have that quiet confidence of a band who has performed together on many occasions: Pascal and Chris bounce off each other, Micheal provides either foundation or additional melody on the double bass, and the result is dynamic, and a load of fun.

Amy Maynard from Looking For Alaska joined them for I’d Go Anywhere, a song they wrote together, adding her wonderful vocals to take the band to even higher heights, if that were possible. Here Pascal provided Dave Swarbrick-style violin as they come across as their most Fairport Convention to date. Life After Dark is a song about what it is like in post lockdown, and both Chris and Pascal moved into falsetto at one point. The audience had been moving closer to the stage throughout the performance, but it was All I Am which turned out to be the catalyst, as this reel led by Pascal finally got the crowd dancing energetically, something which then continued for most of the night. It certainly did not feel as if this were a support act, as the crowd were really behind the band by now and it felt they could do no wrong.

Chris had been unwell this week, and was still suffering on the day of the gig, so he asked his brother Tom to come down and help him out on a few songs as he was not sure if vocally he would survive. Needless to say, Tom was introduced and given a rapturous applause as he stepped up and sang Fall With You. A very good singer indeed, this song saw the pace drop and was far more atmospheric. The highlight of the night had to be the anthem I Will Not Be Broken, which again saw Tom onstage. It may be quiet and delicate in places, but it is certainly shouty and triumphant in others as the audience joined in the chorus. Aaron came on to provide some keyboards to the more mellow Don’t and then it was over.

Tonight was the launch party for the new album from Looking For Alaska, titled Light and Shadow. Although they normally perform as a duo, here they were a quintet with additional drums, bass, and guitar. This trio started playing, were then joined by Aaron on keyboards before Amy made her entrance and they started with Where Have You Gone. Immediately the world revolved around her wonderful vocals, with the music providing the support to allow Amy to let her voice take her away. It is rare to see a singer so at one with what she is doing, often with eyes closed, arms creating shapes in the air, body swaying among the notes, while her vocals contain both delicacy and power so she comes across as a warmer more friendly version of Janis Joplin.

All The Broken People started with acapella from Amy, before Aaron joined on guitar and finally the rest of the band: classic 70’s rock with strong guitar melodies laid over the music. Amy’s breath control is superb, allowing her to hold long notes without strain, yet always with passion and restrained power. When Aaron joins his voice with hers, he provides the perfect musical foil, a depth to her already broad vocals. Through the evening there were times when Aaron was the lead singer, Amy then providing harmonies, and it showed a different side to their music, an additional facet. They even invited Huia Hamon onstage to provide additional harmonies on songs such as Home, where Aaron and Amy each took lead. By now the crowd were really attentive and, in the groove, and while not as rowdy as they had been during Albi & The Wolves, they were still more than happy to dance and join in the chorus.

Let It Go is musically quite basic, but this is just the foundation and it is all about some simply incredible vocals, and when Amy finally rips into the scream there is so much power it feels like the windows may shatter. She brings it home with a total change in pace, almost childlike in its innocence, with Aaron providing the perfect accompaniment on keyboards. That song was one of the real highlights of a magical evening, alongside the next one, Hine Atarau, which is  real builder. This contains some delicate picking from Aaron, alongside a gentle melodic lead and the drums adding just the right emphasis. Pascal was invited back onstage and joined in for a few numbers, adding additional bite and direction, taking the music in a more country direction with wonderful feel, and there was a feeling that by now everyone was having a party both onstage and off. With Aaron switching instruments, and he and Amy both singing leads, this is an incredibly diverse band and playing as a quintet provided much more depth I am sure, but I am also looking forward to catching them as a duo as I am sure that will be a wonderful experience in a different way.

All too soon it was over, but a quick conversation between Amy and Aaron led to all of Albi & The Wolves, as well as Huia and Chris, being invited up (this did mean Pascal had to stand on the floor as there was simply no room on the stage). A quick “do you know this one” deliberation took place, and then they launched into an unplanned and unrehearsed Superstition to end the night. Tonight, was a wonderful evening from three great acts, and I look forward to catching all of them again in the near future.

 

About Looking For Alaska

Like two weary vagabonds hitch-hiking along the open road with nothing but a guitar and a suitcase of songs and wayward memories, pop-folk duo Looking For Alaska are ready to set the New Zealand folk scene alight.

Members Aaron Gott and Amy Maynard offer up a sound rooted in country-style guitar and soaring harmonies woven together at their very fibre, intensified by their magnetic on-stage chemistry. The duo's familiarity, closeness and authenticity is fueled by their real-life romance, creating a magnetic performance style that captivates their audience time and time again, and has seen them open for the likes of Fly My Pretties and Herbs, and as a featured act at the Auckland Folk Festival.

Having performed together extensively since they bonded during a recording assignment at music school in 2012, Aaron and Amy embarked upon their newest musical endeavour Looking For Alaska two years ago, and have since worked tirelessly to create a collection of original material, ranging from thigh-slapping, foot-stomping folk sing-alongs, to poignant heart-rending ballads drenched in melancholy.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Looking For Alaska

Releases

Light and Shadow
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Looking For Alaska
Year: 2016
Type: Album

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