30 Jan 2022
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Louis Baker - Gig Review: Louis Baker @ The Opera House, Wellington - 17/07/2021

18 Jul 2021 // A review by Danica Bryant

“It’s been a crazy day”, Louis Baker laughs, in front of a captive audience at Wellington’s Opera House. Indeed, it’s been one of the capital’s stormiest in recent memory. Torrential rain and wind have flooded the suburbs, closed roads between the outer regions and the city, and apparently even nearly left Baker’s drummer stranded in Auckland following flight cancellations (he has made it in time, to the band’s clear relief!). And yet, in spite of all the roadblocks, the crowd has turned up. They are roaring and ready to sing all night to the performer’s soulful jams, a testament to Louis Baker’s raw star power and the support of his home city.

Poneke’s Arjuna Oakes opens the show, lulling the room into an awed silence as he reaches for his keyboard in the dark and is suddenly floodlit to his synthy instrumental introduction. Oakes opens the gateway to a new world. His music is spacious and airy, full of feeling, and songs like Old School Heart and I Got Mine immediately realize his masterful skill over the keys. He has a distinct understanding of his voice, stretching his range further with each song in the name of emotion. Unreleased track As I Am is particularly intense. With slower, deeper vocals and sombre lyricism, the track which apparently took around three years to write offers listeners their first real room to breathe amidst an otherwise busy and upbeat set. Oakes’ frequent collaborator Serebii enters the fray for their latest release Even When You’re Gone. This invites dreamy electric guitar and a drum machine into the mix, which mesh well with Arjuna’s impassioned singing and affected keys. Oakes packs a lot of power into a short opening set, and has certainly gained hundreds of new fans after giving his all like this.

Louis Baker eventually takes to the stage in a gloriously dramatic opening, building suspense with lighting and dynamic instrumentals. He carries himself with incredible bravado. This is evidenced by the bright green tracksuit he wears, with his initials in gold on his lapel, and ‘Louis’ emblazoned across his back. Immediately getting things moving with the Silver Scroll nominated Black Crow, Baker performs with an infectious, palpable joy. Every member of his band is fizzing to be there, and this excitement fuels the magnificent interplay they have together. Each member is introduced with their own solo, inspiring chunky bass, twinkling keys, hard-hitting drums and silky smooth backing vocals. This sets things up for an evening which will afford every member almost as much time as Baker himself, giving the entire performance a sense of magic thanks to its spotlighting of every contribution to the show.

Throughout the performance, Baker occasionally opens up about the background of certain songs, particularly those from his most recent EP Love Levitates. He explains the heartfelt meaning behind Brighter Day as a dedication “to my koru”, who was “shot through the mouth and had to learn how to speak again”. This story inspired him to make the most of every moment, knowing how everything can change so quickly. These explanations give each performance integrity and portray Baker’s willingness to open up to his audience in a sincere way; it’s a shame that for every hundred people listening carefully in his vulnerable moments, there are a few hecklers yelling anything for attention. They are extremely enthusiastic in their love for Baker, but unfortunately disrupt the emotion he attempts to build in these quiet moments, a problem which is largely unavoidable in a venue of this size.

Nonetheless, Baker knows exactly when to get things moving again, shaking the room with clear crowd favourites like Addict and Won’t Forget. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not tapping, swaying or nodding along to each track’s groovy beat. Baker toys with pedals throughout the night and highlights his skillful guitar playing just as much as his controlled, clean vocals. His independent talent especially shines during unreleased track te utu o te aroha, a bilingual song performed only by Baker and his backing vocalists which shows his unbridled love for the Maori language he “can’t wait to learn more of”.

A grandiose full-band cover of Leon Bridges’ Bad Bad News sees Baker break away from his guitar for the first time, sauntering across the front of the stage with as much confidence as ever. A long, fiery instrumental section showcases the astounding skill of every single member of his band, offering blazing solos from the trumpet and saxophone players who have fuelled the latter half of the show, and a performance on the keys giving unreal speed and control over sound. Soon after, there is even a beautiful flute solo on Love Levitates, followed by another lengthy, epic instrumental experience with fakeout closer Get Back. The crowd is on their feet clapping and stomping so hard, Baker inevitably returns to the stage.

In his encore set, Baker performs his only solo song for the night, an acoustic rendition of early hit Rainbow which fills the room with love. His band returns for The People, a near-gospel tune that has the audience chanting and swaying. With this bombastic finale, the relationship between crowd and performer proves its immeasurable strength, as both sides of the room seem utterly in awe of what a stunning night it has been.

This show was not only about Louis Baker, but about the team behind him and alongside him, and a shared love of the music they create. The closing night of Baker’s Love Levitates tour was the ultimate transformative experience in why Aotearoa’s music is so deeply worth our time, support and love.


Photo Credit Nichole June Productions

 

About Louis Baker

Soulful singer-songwriter Louis Baker is undoubtedly one of the most compelling voices to emerge from Aotearoa New Zealand’s fertile musical landscape in recent years.

Crafting his work from a place of deep artistic integrity, Louis has gathered a loyal following that spans the world over. Everyone from India.Arie (“Louis Baker, you sing my soul,”) to BBC 6 Music, Clash Magazine and Earmilk have shown love for what he is, and has become.

Growing up in the working-class suburb of Newtown, Wellington, Louis developed his passion for music at an early age listening to his parents diverse record collection, which featured the likes of Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Louis Baker

Releases

Love Levitates
Year: 2021
Type: Album
Open
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Louis Baker
Year: 2014
Type: EP

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