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  • Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking For Alaska & Albi & The Wolves @ Nivara Lounge, Hamilton - 18/02/2022

Looking For Alaska - Gig Review: Looking For Alaska & Albi & The Wolves @ Nivara Lounge, Hamilton - 18/02/2022

19 Feb 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Last Friday saw me drive more than 100 km north to the middle of nowhere to see Looking For Alaska and Albi & The Wolves on their A Little Less Space tour which sees them share the stage throughout the night. They were just so good that tonight I drove a little further in the other direction down to Hamilton to see them all over again, with the added bonus that South For Winter were tonight’s support. This also meant that tonight I was going to the Nivara Lounge for the first time, surely one of the most iconic and important venues on North Island. Unfortunately, this venue will soon be closing due to plans to develop the buildings in which it is situated, but there is hope that another home can be found for it, as we cannot afford to lose places like this. The venue has seen many important bands play here, has been the birthplace for some (Aaron from LFA describes it as his second home), and puts on more than 200 gigs a year. Of course, like everyone else in hospitality, all the restrictions are hitting hard, and they are looking at ways of boosting their income. This has seen them invest in streaming technology, and last night was one of the trials – hopefully there will soon be a point where they can charge for digital entrance and fans can see bands without ever leaving the comfort of their home. As it was, last night was a sell-out, and I felt very fortunate indeed to be there.

As with the previous week, the guys had managed to find a couch in a back room, which had been put on the stage in the middle, and we had Theo on stage left on his five string bass, Aaron on keyboards, guitars and vocals, then Amy (vocals, percussion) sat next to Chris (vocals, guitar, stomp box) with Micheal stood at the end with his double bass and violinist Pascal sat in the middle cross legged like a mischievous pixie. Just as they were about to start, I realised that as a writer I was facing an issue I had never previously faced in more than 30 years, in that I was seeing basically the same gig as I had seen and written about in detail only a week previously, with virtually the same setlist (the encore was different, that was all). So, do I just write a summary? I had even seen the support act the night before and given tonight they would have a restricted set I had heard all the material just 24 hours earlier as well. Luckily (or not, you decide), I felt it would not be fair to the venue or the musicians involved to just throw together a few lines, so here we go.

Although the seating is more comfortable, and the stage lower, in many ways Nivara Lounge reminds me of venues like Ding Dong and Whammy Bar, where the ceiling is low and everyone is close together. All the guys seemed even more relaxed than the previous week, having not only undertaken two gigs in this format but also being in a venue they have all played many times. That it was a sell-out, and everyone stayed seated due to restrictions (there was someone going around all night to see if anyone needed drinks with all punters required to be seated at all times) also added to the ambience.

I had a more central seat tonight than last week, which meant I could really see the interplay between the guys, and it just did not feel like a band and audience situation, but much more like a family with everyone settled back and enjoying themselves with nothing whatsoever to prove and consequently no pressure. Sometimes it actually felt like they were having so much fun on stage they had forgotten there was anyone else actually paying any attention to them whatsoever!

Chris’s vocals were somewhat higher in the mix tonight, with the result that the overall sound also was improved. We kicked off with Fall With You, with the band operating as a full quintet (only one bassist played at a time), and not for the first time I thought to myself that we could be seeing the birth of a new outfit, one which operates as separate trios at some points of the year and as a complete band at others as they all gel together so very well indeed. All five singers have very different vocal styles which complement each other when harmonising, while Chris, Amy and Aaron all take the lead in different styles. This was demonstrated clearly when Aaron kicked off Whole Again, which commences with just him on guitar and vocals until Amy joins in, with Pascal and Chris also lending a hand. I was able to see Theo more clearly tonight, and have a better comprehension of his bass technique, and given he is only 15 years old (his birthday was the day before) he is ridiculously talented, and if he keeps practising (he is a teenager after all) one can only wonder what he will be like in his mid-Twenties, and he was really pumping into this.

Pascal is one of those musicians who lives to play, and plays to live, and he cannot help himself when he is onstage so joined with every one of Amy and Aaron’s songs, somehow adding nuances and touches which filled out the sound and made the songs even that more special. I was even credited from the stage by Chris for calling him “NZ’s happiest musician”. Pascal had previously pointed out to me that in a photo I took he had a silly grin on his face, to which I responded that he usually had a silly grin on his face. It’s like Amy singing with her eyes open or not moving her hands, getting photographs like that just do not happen.

It was pointed out quite early in the set that there was a happy side of the stage and a sad side of the stage, as even though Amy and Aaron are very happily married indeed (and they are very loved up indeed as you can tell by the way they look at each other), for some reason their songs are far more emotional, while Chris tends to do more dynamic and boisterous in your face numbers. I am sure Chris was close to give himself an injury with using a stomp box while seated and Pascal just did not know what to do with himself as he is normally running around.

Every song was a highlight, with wonderful lifting harmonies on Home, the dynamics of Try, or the real emotional trauma of F#@k Anxiety where Amy opens up on the difficulties of going out and meeting people again after lockdown. So, follow that! As last week, the show followed the same format so South For Winter had their set in the middle. Chris and Pascal first met with Nick and Dani at a folk conference in Canada a few years ago, while Amy and Aaron have recorded a cover of SFW’s Stone, which can be found on YouTube. There is genuine respect and admiration between the bands; this is more than just a support act being put on a bill.

They also made the decision to be seated, with Dani sitting higher than Nick, who was happy on the couch. Tonight, there was only time for six numbers, so I was definitely spoiled the previous night, and they kicked off again with Ten Black Crows with the electric guitar creating a wonderful contrast to the vocals. Apparently, Pascal had asked if he could join in with them on Underneath The Blood Moon, and of course Dani and Nick said yes and he bounded onto the stage with his incredible enthusiasm and happily added atmospheric notes over the top. This song has beautiful intensity, with real passion and wonderful dynamics.

They are another couple who sing about their love for each other on the stage, and even wrote a song for their wedding where they sing about how there are so many important things in their lives from their respective cultures, yet they love each other more than all of that. There is a real connection, and the impression is that we as listeners are almost voyeuristic in that we are being allowed into a special and private place. They played Stone, telling everyone they needed to go onto YouTube and see Aaron and Amy’s video (I agree), but arguably the highlight of their set wasn’t actually planned as such. Nick plays an instrumental, Into The Fire, (which reminds me a great deal of Nick Harper and how he used to almost destroy an acoustic guitar onstage), where he is throwing tempo and melody changes all over the place and he basically dared Pascal to come up. Needless to say, there is no way a challenge like that would not be accepted and Nick proceeded to do his very best to throw Pascal off, but his eyes were glued to what Nick was doing and let his music follow right on with him, creating a duet which I wish I had captured on audio as it was a battle royal. Dani was watching from the audience and from the look on her face she was also in awe – this is normally a duel with SFW’s cellist, who did not make the trip, but I cannot imagine it ever sounded like this. They finished with Twine, with wonderful harmonies and gentleness after the bombast and their time was over way too soon.

The second set has more bombast and power within it, yet there are also times of pure emotion such as Amy’s vocals on All The Broken People, which are heartfelt and deep. Chris is full of passion on This Is War, another song which must be almost impossible to do sat down, and then we were onto a brand-new song, Rewind, from Amy. When I say brand new, she started writing it the previous night, finished it during the day, and then during the interval convinced Chris that not only were they going to do it, but Chris was going to sing the first verse! He had the lyrics on his phone, and the basic arrangement allowed the singers to really throw themselves into it. Mind you, Chris did point out afterwards that he found it incredibly strange to be singing a love song to the woman sat next to him on the couch who in turn was singing it to her husband who was playing the keyboards!

Hine Atarau and Lily were just incredible, and I have no comprehension how Amy can sing like that sitting down as technically that should not happen with her diaphragm being compressed, yet somehow, she does, getting incredibly high and with real power. I Will Not Be Broken had everyone singing along, as it is a real call to arms, a protest song for any age. They finished the set with the fully combined Solar Power, which was a lovely funky end to the night. Mind you, they were not going to be allowed to leave, and as it was his birthday just the day before (and he had already been embarrassed by his mum singing Happy Birthday, along with the whole audience) Theo had been allowed to choose the encore. This was Steal My Kisses, and it was obvious why he had asked for this as his bass playing was literally all over the place as he flew across the neck, and he was even allowed to have a well-deserved bass solo, which was perfectly in keeping with the song.

Way too soon the night was over, and I found myself back on SH1 heading north. An incredible night and a fantastic gig from three wonderful bands in an iconic venue. Who could ask for more?

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


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

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