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  • Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking For Alaska & Albi & The Wolves @ Leigh Sawmill, Leigh - 12/02/2022

Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking For Alaska & Albi & The Wolves @ Leigh Sawmill, Leigh - 12/02/2022

12 Feb 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

So, Aotearoa is in the red traffic light setting for Covid 19, gigs are being cancelled left and right, yet somehow, I found myself attending two on consecutive nights. Whereas the Thursday saw me in the middle of Auckland, Friday saw me out in the middle of nowhere. Leigh Sawmill has long had a reputation for great beer and great music, but the issue for me is that it is in Leigh, which is 100 km from where I stay when I am up here. But when I knew that two of my favourite bands were going to be touring together, I knew I had to make the most of it. After managing a completely uneventful trip across Auckland on a Friday night, which was totally unexpected, I enjoyed the drive up to the venue as that really is a pretty part of the world. I know the area well from years back, but somehow never made it to Sawmill.

I asked for a nice dark beer, and was recommended one, for which I was told that if I didn’t like it I could bring it back and they wouldn’t charge me! Now that is someone having faith in their product. I grabbed a small table at the front of the stage and looked at the setup, which was not what I had originally expected, as it appeared that both bands would be onstage at the same time, and that is exactly what happened. I first saw Albi & The Wolves back in 2014 but did not see Looking For Alaska until 2020, and that night they had Albi open for them. The guys have very close relationships with each other, have written songs together, and they decided to make the A Little Less Space tour into a special event with them collaborating onstage and having the support act in the middle. I was also not the only person who made it up from Auckland, as Bryce Patten (Downfall of Humanity) was also here, having seen support act Fables the previous night in Auckland (did someone say there are no gigs?). He may be known for being a metal guitarist in a few bands, but he is also highly into acoustic music and is behind a special acoustic night at Ding Dong Lounge in Auckland in two weeks, so come along and support the venue.

When the guys kicked off tonight, we had Aaron stage left on keyboards, guitars, vocals, then it was Theo (Amy’s 14-year-old son who tonight was a revelation) on 5-string bass, while sharing a leather couch at the back of the stage was Amy (vocals, percussion) and Chris (vocals, guitar, stomp box). Pascal was sat in front of them (violin, vocals), Micheal on stand-up bass and vocals (he was the only person not performing sat down, just a little difficult with his instrument) and then at the end there was banjo player Nat Torkington (You, Me, Everybody) who performed with Albi when I last saw them at The Tuning Fork in June. Strangely enough I had not seen Looking For Alaska since Auckland Folk Festival at the end of January last year, but part of that is down to Covid plus of course Amy’s success in making the grand final of 5 Minutes Of Fame on Maori Television.

The plan tonight was for the guys to interchange between LFA and Albi songs, with neither band having more than two in a row, and sometimes they would be involved with the other’s material and sometimes not. The two bassists only played on their own songs, while Pascal of course played on everything, adding touches and nuances when needed and totally taking over on others – he is rightfully regarded as one of the very top violinists in the country, and is always one of the happiest people you will ever see onstage. Tonight, he started above and behind the stage, adding emotion to opening song Fall With You, coming down the stairs to join the rest. Chris had made the comment in their socials that if they gained 200 likes for the tour post, he would wear a Father Christmas outfit at Leigh, although possibly he had not planned for us to all be suffering horrendous humidity while the stage lights were set to shine directly on the couch so he, Amy, and Pascal definitely felt rather warm

Nat only played on one song in the first set before leaving, and for Whole Again, Aaron switched from the keyboards he had been playing before onto acoustic guitar. Both these bands are normally quite active onstage, and all credit to them for managing to stay seated throughout, but Amy cannot stop the hand movements or closing her eyes while singing. Bryce and I were chatting about her before the show, and he said to me that she is one of the very finest singers in New Zealand, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is totally correct. Tonight, she was more restrained than normal due to the setting, and it is possible that this may have had an impact on how I viewed Aaron’s singing as to my mind tonight he was the most relaxed and powerful I have heard him – it can’t be easy performing alongside one of the loudest belters around night after night.

Underpass was one of the two new songs from Albi tonight, and Chris was encouraged to tell the long story about it which led to Micheal sitting down for a rest and Pascal lying on the stage, resting his head on his hands looking adoringly up at Chris. There is such an easy camaraderie among the trio that one always has to smile and join in the fun, they are a very easy band to just enjoy from the first time anyone hears them. This had a great solo from Pascal, while Closing Time is funkier and had some great harmony vocals. Commercial alt-folk with singer-songwriter and Americana influences.

LFA’s Home was almost Floydian at times, and they also performed a new song in F#@k Anxiety. This is one of the times when one realises there is a switch inside Amy’s head as she goes instantly from the giggly talker to the serious totally in the moment singer. This was the first song of the night where she allowed herself to show just some of her range and power. They soon came to the end of the first set, but apparently a decision had been taken that it needed one more song to round it off, but no-one had told Pascal, and it hadn’t been rehearsed. No matter though, they knocked through Try with everyone fully relaxed yet blasting it out.

Now it was time for Fables, a project based around singer/songwriter Jess Bailey. Apparently, one will never know what the format of the band will be from night to night, as she bring in different musicians. Tonight, she was working with multi-instrumentalist Dave Khan (Reb Fountain), who played violin apart from one number when he took over on acoustic guitar. I had not heard any of her material before tonight, although I am now looking forward to reviewing her 2018 EP Portraits, but even before she started playing, she appeared relaxed, and anyone who has the tick of approval from Chris Dent will always be worth listening to.

They kicked off with Minibar, and I was struck with how hard she hits the strings, which provides a minor percussive element to her sound. Her vocals have an emotional feeling to them, and the song had real depth with Dave adding a plaintive edge. Someone I Know had a very different feel to it and was slower with distinct sections. She has the type of voice which really brings the listener in and there are definite elements of Joni Mitchell in there as she has quite an American style at times. The wail at the end was vivid and strong.

I was impressed throughout, especially with Times Before, which yet again felt very different to what had gone before. She described the song as a lament, and the tempo combined with the lyrics made for something incredibly deep and meaningful. Another which really resonated was My Home Is Not My Address, where she came across as a Seventies-inspired singer songwriter. She is so much fun onstage, self-deprecating yet also full of confidence, with the result that everyone warms to her. I am already looking forward to catching her again soon.

The guys got back on stage for All The Broken People with Chris and Pascal adding to Aaron’s accompaniment, but this was all about Amy’s vocals. I had already been concerned about how the guys were going to perform some of the songs in a seated environment, but somehow, they managed, and the dramatic This Is War had the same bounce and drive one always expects. The song order had a lot of tweaking undertaken, and the result was that the first set was dramatic and powerful, there was then Fables which reset everyone’s ears, and then they came back with the second which was designed to lift everyone to new heights. Nat came back on in time for One Eye Open and stayed for the rest of the set.

While all their material is incredible, we had two highlight songs from both bands in the second set. From Looking For Alaska we had the emotional Hine Atarau which was incredibly atmospheric, while Amy’s songs to her grandma, Lily, is always over the top and it was here that she really allowed herself to scream which got a real reaction from the crowd. As for Albi & The Wolves, I Will Not Be Broken always makes me think of British band Levellers. This is a real call to arms, and how they managed to perform this seated is simply beyond me. Settle Down had everyone playing, and Pascal was on fire (sat cross-legged on the stage remember), and they even brought in part of Psycho Killer!

Finally, they finished, and it was all done. The problem was the crowd would not let them go away! Jess came back up and the guys powered through Folsom Prison Blues, but it still was not enough so Amy and Aaron led everyone through a raucous interpretation of Superstition. This was an incredible night with wonderful musicians and friends, and I can’t wait to see them again next Friday at the sold-out Hamilton show (Nivara Lounge) and do it all over again! Their support then will be South For Winter who I will also be seeing at the Ministry of Folk the night before .

Who says there are no gigs on? They may be hard to find, but venues and musicians need support like never before, and when it is for bands such as Looking For Alaska and Albi & The Wolves then musically it is the listener who comes away emotionally and intellectually invigorated.


Photo Credit: Kev Rowland

 

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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