28 Nov 2022

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French For Rabbits - Gig Review: French for Rabbits @ Bark, Dunedin - 27/11/2020

28 Nov 2020 // A review by Darryl Baser

Port Chalmers songwriter Lucy Hunter opened up the evening with Please Just Break My Heart and Let Me Go. Announcing to the rapidly filling Bark space at Dunedin’s Dog With Two Tails "this is my first [piano] gig standing up".

One of the pals I was with suggested we all sit in the front row, literally less than a meter from Lucy’s keyboard, it was excellent placement. Not only could I see her fantastic black velveteen boots as her right foot operated the keyboard’s pedal, but also saw her phenomenal handy-work on the electric piano.

Hunter is one of the most gifted songwriters I’ve seen in years. She writes lyrically dark songs, but they leave you feeling ok, and are not at all indulgent or morose.

My Lips Are Red But My Heart Is Blue, is a great example of this, she tells the crowd it was written about the day she bought the dazzling red lippy which she’s wearing tonight; "but it didn't cheer me up, though I’m happy now", she quips. This song features the line: "love is a fish hook in my mouth".

Lucy Hunter played an awesome set, closing it with “a longer song, Owls Do Cry”.

She says, as the title suggests, it’s a song about one of New Zealand’s greatest writers, Janet Frame.

Hunter is a great storyteller and Owls Do Cry really highlights this, featuring the line "I'll be licking up my soul off the floor when you go".

I love seeing Lucy Hunter standing up to play, watching the grace of her hands is a huge gift, especially in Owls Do Cry, as there are parts where her hands cross over like she's playing a Domenico Scarlatti piece.

After a 15 minute changeover French For Rabbits take to the stage, the band’s expanded to a 5-piece with home-town Dunedin-born multi-instrumentalist Penelope Esplin being the most recent addition to the band. Esplin is so local, her mum’s doing the door for the evening, and rumour has it, the band stayed at her place.

Front woman Brooke Singer says Hi, and tells the polite and quiet crowd: "we're going to play some old songs and some new ones," before opening with Goat which features the fabulous, if a little brutal, lyric: "I won't be the first to say I'm sorry, even if it's my fault."

Right from the first few songs you can see there's clearly a good feeling between band members.

They follow with Claimed By The Sea, which Singer describes as their oldest song, written about 2010/2011. Singer and Esplin's voices harmonise really beautifully, then add in bass player Ben Lemi’s warm tones as well, and you have beautiful three-part harmonies.

The band has been writing recently following 2017’s The Weight of Melted Snow LP, and the first of a few new songs for the evening is The Dark Arts, which Singer says is “due to be released soon", my immediate thoughts are damn what a song, track it down when they release it, I'm putting my name down for the review now.

The overflow follows, with Singer describing it as "a song about anxiety," it’s probably the happiest song about mental illness I've ever heard.

I’ve mentioned the band’s on-stage chemistry before, and the smiles between band members, and band and the crowd, continue through the set.

While listening I try to look at all band members, but my eyes were drawn to drummer Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa. I love watching expressive really great drummers, and Hikurangi is a stunner. He makes complicated look and sound easy and fun.

Nothing says Kiwi music like referencing classic NZ telly, Brooke Singer kicks it really old school with another new song, Money or The Bag, which she says is based on the 1970's/80's game show.

Home town woman Penelope Esplin has played keys, and bass while singing harmonies during the show, then swaps to her third instrument of the night, electric guitar, for what Singer says is "a love song called The other side". The song proves to be a stunner, warm and anthemic, like some of their other songs it builds up, ebbing and flowing like high tide at Lyall Bay or on Petone foreshore.

The band leaves stage, some easier than others (Hikurangi almost seeing the humour in getting tangled up in his cables).

After the shortest of breaks they return, to play The Outsider which is another new song, and features Hikurangi triggering a reversed sample on a Roland Octopad which adds another depth to French For Rabbits’ lush sound.

A top shelf evening of quality music. My only regret: I didn’t buy an LP or shirt.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Mackay / Kea Photos


About French For Rabbits

Hailing from New Zealand, haunting dream-folk duo French For Rabbits have been quietly building a reputation for their sad yet brave songs. Since releasing their debut EP Claimed By The Sea in March 2012, they have gathered a dedicated fan-base around the globe with handwritten letters and home-assembled albums.

The authenticity of their songs and their engaging live shows has resulted in student radio play in New Zealand, support in the UK from BBC 6 presenters Gideon Coe, Tom Ravenscroft and The Shed’s Mark Coles, and a nomination for Best Folk Album of 2013 for the New Zealand music awards. They have also received funding from NZ On Air for a single and video due out later this year.

Brooke Singer, who is the fragile voiced songstress and writer for the duo, began performing with guitarist John Fitzgerald in 2011. Determined to overcome an acute fear of singing in public, the pair shifted to Wellington from their hometown of Christchurch and set about tentatively performing at an intimate open mic at a local café. They have since toured nationally in New Zealand, and played alongside the likes of Jess Chambers, Darren Hanlon and Tiny Ruins.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for French For Rabbits


The Overflow
Year: 2021
Type: Album
The Weight of Melted Snow
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Year: 2014
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Claimed By The Sea
Year: 2012
Type: EP

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