15 Aug 2022

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  • Sam Bartells - Gig Review: Sam Bartells @ Ponsonby Social Club, Auckland - 28/05/2022

Sam Bartells - Gig Review: Sam Bartells @ Ponsonby Social Club, Auckland - 28/05/2022

28 May 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Over to Ponsonby on a Saturday night – I must confess I cannot remember the last time I was in this part of Auckland, very different indeed to the rock dives I normally frequent. But given Sam Bartells was playing a special acoustic show, and it had been a year since I last saw him, it had to be done. It is also always nice to be able to catch up with Ginny and Steve as well, and they were both here tonight with Ginny shooting the show.

The concept was simple in that Sam was sat on a stool with an acoustic, with Mitch French on keyboards. First up was the single Bring Me Down, and it was quite different to hear it in a more stripped back version. This is music as its rawest, just a singer with basic accompaniment performing original material, carrying the audience along with their power. Right from the off, Sam was pouring his heart and soul into this, his vocals full of emotion, strong and passionate. Hearing him perform in this manner was simply wonderful as even though there was less in the way of instrumentation, there appeared to be more depth and breadth.

Then we had Wicked Game, a song I no longer associate with Chris Isaak, but with Coridian so was intrigued to see how this would compare. Sam’s version is different to both, slowed down somewhat, allowing Mitch to display some of his delicate keyboard skills while Sam showed yet again how his vocals come straight from the heart. This is not an easy song to perform so early in the set, with the need to jump into falsetto, yet Sam made it look and sound easy. Although this was a seated gig, people had pushed close to the stage and there was very little in the way of talking as everyone was entranced by what was happening in front of them. Mitch upped the Hammond Organ sound for Let’s Go, adding vocal harmonies and by now Sam was really starting to relax into the show. The mood changed somewhat for Soul Burdened Soldier, which Sam wrote about a friend of his who has passed away, and some of his family were here tonight to hear it. Again, one could tell just how much this meant to Sam as he bared his soul for us – there was no hiding place tonight, he was putting everything out there.

Both Sam and Mitch were seated throughout, and the lights were static, but there was no need for anyone running around the stage or a massive show as this was all about the music and when Sam opened up during Hunger Strike, the power and passion came hurtling through and reverberated off the walls while the audience were enthralled. We were also treated to Good Intentions, which will be released as a single on June 24th. Here Mitch was adding some synthesised strings, and one can easily imagine this being performed by Sam with a string quartet, as it has a sense of real class and honesty within it, especially with him once again lifting his vocals to the rafters.

There was an emotional shift for Ever Seen The Rain, with everyone happily joining in and lots of smiles. Sam had created a set which was deliberately full of dynamic change, so we were going from high tempo singalongs to numbers such as Blessed and Broken which had way more depth and were delivered in a far more thoughtful and reflective manner. White Wolf was another new number which has not yet been released, far more country in manner than much of what had gone before, again performed slowly and with plenty of passion. Mitch also added some important harmonies on this one which helped in lifting it during the chorus, tempering somewhat the raw emotion on display from Sam in the verse.

We were more than an hour into the set by now, and Sam was still pouring his heart out on the stage, and he was surely going to be drained by the end of this as even though he was sat down he was putting everything into it with Queen of Hurt being yet another triumph as he powered through the vocals. The country edge came back with Alone No More, with the riffed guitar having more of a steel edge this time, lighter, and with held-down keyboard chords to play against. Special guest Nail (Devilskin) then joined Sam, with Mitch leaving, to perform the Myles Kennedy/Slash number Bent To Fly. Nail provided wonderful guitar which allowed Sam to concentrate on the vocals, pouring everything into it, even though by now he had been tapping his emotional well for a very long time indeed. Nail showed he is more than adept at throwing out great guitar solos when he is behind an acoustic as much as he is when he is on his usual electric, and together the two of them were producing something very special indeed which was worth coming out for, all on its own.

Nail was only here for the one song, with Mitch returning to the stage, and they went into Englishman in New York, a very different feel to everything which had gone before. The set finished with Morning Light, which Sam recorded in Nashville, and it definitely has that feel to it and it was a wonderful way to finish the evening as it was on a high with a much lighter number. Of course, he was not going to be allowed to get away with just that, so then we were treated to Knocking On Heaven’s Door, played at just the right relaxed tempo for everyone to really get into it.

This was a wonderful night, and I know that everyone there is hoping that we will be able to see Sam in this environment again as it was incredibly personal and real. Stunning.

Photo Credit: Ginny C Photography
View the full gallery here



Let's Go
Year: 2020
Type: Album

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