30 Jan 2022

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  • Albi & The Wolves - Gig Review: Rock The Folk @ The Tuning Fork, Auckland - 18/06/2021

Albi & The Wolves - Gig Review: Rock The Folk @ The Tuning Fork, Auckland - 18/06/2021

20 Jun 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

So, it was back to the lovely little venue which is The Tuning Fork. It is somewhere I always enjoy going to, as not only is the food and beer very good indeed, but there is a good sound and everyone can see. For those who do not know Auckland, it is situated right next door to Spark Arena and has loads of signed memorabilia around the walls which is always worth checking out as well. More than 250 tickets had been sold for tonight, so it was going to have a nice buzz to it and having seen Albi & the Wolves a few times over the years I know they are always a great live band who react to the crowd. Tonight the gig had been put on by Albi and Sam Bartells, and they had not been able to decide who should actually play last, so they came onto the stage and tossed a coin. Albi won, so they would play at the end, but before Sam could come back with his band, there was the small matter of Mema Wilda.

Mema came on stage with Sam Stretch, and they promptly both sat down, Mema on a chair with an acoustic guitar and Sam on a stool with an electric bass. It is really unusual to see artists seated, and it made me smile as even before they played a note I knew this was going to be good as here we had two people who knew it was all about the music as opposed to anything else. There were only seven songs, but I could have sat and listened to then all night. Mema has a wonderful voice, and her sense of sheer enjoyment and fun was infectious and brought everyone in. They started with Blue, and for this number Sam was using his bass to provide deep and dark effects which were almost Floydian at times which worked well with the picked guitar and vocals. Sam kept changing his approach through the different numbers, sometimes playing quite flat and straight, while on some others he switched to acoustic, always working with Mema to provide the perfect support and accompaniment. Heaven had Mema dispose of the guitar and just provide vocals, and the results was something which in many ways had quite a commercial sound, with her voice full of depth and breadth. All her material felt considered, often packed full of emotion, and the listeners were brought very much into her world. That they finished with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker pretty much summed up the set for me. I very much look forward to catching them again, as this felt very special indeed.

The changeover was very quick indeed, and soon Sam was onstage with his band, which tonight featured Stallone D’Souza (keyboards), Shimna Higgins (fiddle, vocals), Mitch French (drums) and Maia Huia (bass, vocals). I heard someone saying this was the first time this line-up had played together, but certainly no-one would have guessed that as they were very tight indeed, and yet again here was a group having fun onstage. Right from the off and Our Love May Go Away they were determined to make their presence felt, from the dated keyboard sounds to the over-the-top violin and then at the heart of it was the power of the songs and Sam’s great vocals. The sound was rich and full, delicate, and powerful, as they mixed folk and Americana. Queen of Hurt was a number which really stood out, with Sam switching to electric guitar instead of acoustic. It also includes bars where Shimna was picking the violin instead of bowing, and this gave a very different feeling to the song as it turned into a real rocker. Mema came back onstage for Where We’ll Go, a wonderful duet which apparently is being released next week, and their voices blended incredibly well.

Sam’s voice is normally the central feature of the songs, and at times he is quite reminiscent of Jay Turner, but he also includes plenty of falsetto alongside the passion and dynamics. The arrangements are also incredibly important, with the drums often staying in the background, so when they come in, they make a real statement. All Sam’s songs feel genuine and lived in, based on his own experiences, and full of honesty. It was somewhat surprising to hear them undertake a cover of an Albi & The Wolves song, namely Closing Time, but it shows just how much this was a joint adventure by the co-headlines and they were determined to have fun.

Another quick changeover and Albi & The Wolves took to the stage. There really is no excuse for not seeing Chris Dent (vocals, guitar), violinist/vocalist Pascal Roggen and double bassist Micheal Young play, as they must be one of the most hard-working live bands around. I think it was 7 years ago when I first came across them, and have never been disappointed, and with the crowd warmed up after the bands that had gone before them it was obvious, we were on for a real treat. They kicked off with Giants In The Sky, with Shimna coming back to join them and provide a twin fiddle attack. I have probably seen Fairport Convention in concert more than any other band, and that approach took me right back to those days, with both players interweaving the sounds and threads to create an incredibly special beginning indeed. It was to be a night of guests, as banjo player Nat Torkington (You, Me, Everybody) then joined, and while he was not there for the complete set, his presence when he was onstage added an additional layer which was very welcome indeed. He is best-known for bluegrass, and he added a definite touch of American to the rocking Canyon, where Pascal showed again he is a real force of nature. Chris is often trapped by the stomp box so is unable to move away as much as he would like, while Micheal plays an instrument not really made for switching places onstage, but Pascal more than makes up for it, bending from the waist as he throws himself into his music with a smile on his face which is simply infectious.

Their third song in was Alone No More, a Sam Bartells number, as each played tribute to the other which showed just how aligned they are musically. The trio are incredibly relaxed when playing, something which only comes from so many hours spent in each other’s company. One Eye Open was incredibly up-tempo, blasting along and the audience were really with them, while Pascal sang All I Am as he had written the verse (and again it reminded me of FC, as I could imagine Chris Leslie doing this one). All too soon it was coming to the end of the set, and the boys (with Nat) launched into I Will Not Be Broken. This classic anthem took on another level with Nat adding banjo and the crowd adding vocals, as we all shouted the chorus and stamped our feet. That is of course the lead track from their 2015 EP, and then they ended the set with the last song from that release, Another Brick In The Wall, which is played in a very different style to what Floyd ever imagined.

That should have been it, but the crowd were shouting for more, so Sam and Chris got their bands onstage for a raucous run through of Kings of Leon’s Sex On Fire and were finally done. I am already off to see Albi & The Wolves at a house gig next month, which will be insane, and look forward to catching the others again soon as well. Another great night at The Tuning Fork.


Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Kev Rowland

Photos 2 & 3: Chris Zwaagdyk @ ZED Pics


About Albi & The Wolves

This is folk music, but not as you know it. Pulling inspiration from a wide spectrum of genres, from swing to bluegrass, soul, R&B, rock and world music, Albi and The Wolves offer a decadent serving of double bass, banjo, and fiddle accompanied by Albi's smooth vocal stylings. These elements come together to create both a potent foot stomping rhythm and a captivating music and stage presence never experienced before.

With this love and respect of music in all its forms, Albi and The Wolves not only offer vibrant and refreshing original songs which burst open the seams of traditional folk music, but they also inject their signature sound into modern classics from artists as diverse as Micheal Jackson, and Pink Floyd.

Since the band's formation in 2014, they have excelled in New Zealand's live music scene, pulling in large crowds with their unique performance style, making it irresistible to dance.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Albi & The Wolves


One Eye Open
Year: 2016
Type: Album

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