6 Feb 2023
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Gig Review: Dee and the Sweet Somethings @ Meow, Wellington - 13/07/2022

14 Jul 2022 // A review by Danica Bryant

The crowd is electric at Wellington’s Meow this Wednesday evening, now the home of Dee and the Sweet Somethings, Walker and Clara van Wel for one marvellous night. Looking out into the sea of people reveals a particularly eclectic bunch, of all ages, genders and fashion styles - it’s all slicked back hair, bright scarves, leather boots, full suits and colourful beanies, a visual display of how many diverse people adore tonight’s acts.

Clara van Wel takes the stage first, alone and dressed as a self-described “frazzled Frank Sinatra”. Opening their set with a careful, slow vocal, Clara soon bursts into aggressive choruses and hard strumming. Their voice is full of fire. Each song dances through abrupt tempo changes, sweeping melodies and surprising dynamic range. After each dizzying number, Clara also banters with the crowd, clearly at ease in spite of the stressful stage setting. Their music boasts an unmistakable theatricality, thanks to their admitted love for musicals and English literature. A wordy, tight ode to the problem of “soulmates in young fantasy fiction” proves how satisfying their lyricism can be, whilst later crowd favourite Small Doses testifies to their intensity of emotion. But it’s the final number Without Question’s waltzy, dreamy promise to love someone forever that cements Clara van Wel’s ability as a soloist capable of hitting every possible mark.

Next up, Isobelle Walker debuts with her new band under the moniker Walker. Accompanied by a host of other musicians she affectionately calls her “boys”, their first song is sultry and melodic, with an undeniable jazz groove. The band’s stunning harmonisation and thick texture fills the room. Both vocalists twist their lyrical pronunciations in the style of performers like Billie Eilish and Ellie Goulding. This occasionally makes the words hard to comprehend, but largely works to establish a unique sound. The country-tinged folk duet You’ve Changed is a clear highlight. It showcases the band’s cohesion, the obvious reapings of extensive rehearsals. An expressive moment late in the set, where the band build dramatically over Isobelle’s cry “I am flying ‘cos you let me go”, is without a doubt their most extraordinary moment. Whilst Walker are early in their work as a band, their skill, chemistry and creativity are evident, and their power together will only increase with experience and time.

By the time headlining act Dee and the Sweet Somethings take the stage, the excitement in the room is palpable. Despite their opening song containing lyrics claiming, “nobody’s watching”, Meow is full to the brim, eyes locked on the band as though nothing else exists. Dee’s vocal is soaked in reverb and dripping with sass. They hit every note with precision and an astounding level of smoothness and clarity. Much of their lyrics deal with identity, envisioning the human self as elements of our natural and social lives — we are volcanic rocks, bottles of wine, fire, bodies and soul. Although the early songs feel almost railroaded in how rehearsed their transitions come across, the band quickly settles in and finds greater freedom in improvisation and casual audience interactions. 

Amongst all their impressive musicality, Dee and the Sweet Somethings’ most prominent skill is their astounding songwriting. Each song has something profoundly unique to say. Standout tracks like You Should Be Having Fun or Want To Want Me spill from the speakers, destined to be earnest, relatable, clever, emotional and yet still endlessly fun. It is as though Dee and their Somethings have all learnt music theory to the highest degree, specifically so they can throw it all away and invent something entirely new. They constantly add more texture throughout their set. A star performance from their new violinist Celia adds a glistening polish to their sound. Everchanging percussion from drummer Ryder Smith twists songs at every turn, whilst fresh vocal melodies and harmonies from guitarist Maxime particularly shine in a moving, quiet song devoted to Dee’s father mid-set.

Even the most seasoned performers will find something to learn from watching this band. This is because Dee and the Sweet Somethings do not give you a gig, they give you a show. They command the stage, leaving you no choice but to watch in awe. It’s just when I start wondering if they’re leaving too much dead air in between songs that they strike up “the tuning song”, a serious name for a not-so-serious ditty, filling space as Dee adjusts their guitar. Although they deserve a more consistently attentive audience throughout the night, unfortunately such is the struggle of playing a student night in Wellington. Regardless, they do a spectacular job justifying the size of the crowd they’ve amassed.

Every act that graced the stage of Meow for this show displays an impressive mass appeal and yet a simultaneous commitment to making creative, unabashedly personal music. This makes their talent entirely unwavering. If you have the chance to see even a single one of these acts, take it quickly and hold onto it tight. Falling in love with their music is like falling in love with sound itself. 

 

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