2 Dec 2022

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Terrible Sons - Gig Review: Terrible Sons @ The Wine Cellar, Auckland - 16/11/2022

16 Nov 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Into central Auckland for my second gig of the week, this time down to Wine Cellar to see folk duo Terrible Sons who describe their music as being “Indie folk music for day-dreamers, cloud watchers and sad song enthusiasts”. The only reason I was here that I had to drive into the city on Friday afternoon for a meeting and heard Lauren and Matt Barus doing a live session on the radio, and when I realised they were coming up from their home in Christchurch to play a gig in Auckland I knew I had to be there.

But before we heard them there was Rodney Fisher, who is best known for being in Goodshirt. No band tonight though, just Rodney with songs which are going to feature on his new album, due out next year. He commenced with Something Nothing, building a soundscape by setting up some loops with picked guitar, and then his pained and emotional vocals over the top. He has a voice which can be gentle or sound like it is wracked with pain, and is in stark contrast to the naivety of the layered guitars. He kept adding additional notes, building the threads until they wove into something dramatic and beautiful.

He was then joined by Lizzy Buckton for the rest of the night who provided piano and delicate harmonies on Locked Up: no longer was he creating loops on the guitar, but it still had a rich sound with plenty of reverb. This number was more direct and passionate, upbeat, even if the subject was not especially joyful. Tonight, we were being played songs from his “lockdown” album, which was recorded with musicians from Christchurch, passing files back and forth, and for By The Sea we had some of their backing tracks. This may not have gone exactly as planned, but it was great to see how they refused to give up, and persevered with a song which by the end was powerful and very different indeed to what had gone before with far more experimentation, while for some reason it also reminded me of Reb Fountain. Having survived the last one, Rodney pressed the space bar once again, and we were into Back To This which is delicate, folky, and also very modern with electronic beats and sounds. Lizzy’s lifting high vocals were very effective here, while it was strange to hear beats being used when the track was obviously not aimed at dance. Much of her playing revolves around chords as opposed to individual notes, and this provides nice emphasis for Rodney to work against.

Apparently, the next song was originally called Batshit Crazy, but Rodney has been encouraged not to use that title, so it is now I See You. Rodney actually started with the wrong lyrics, but it was okay as Lizzy made sure everyone realised he had messed it up, and with lots of laughter Rodney picked it up and got it right. There was no stress on the stage, just two friends having fun and enjoying themselves while the crowd was feeling very much part of it. This song has far more vocals, which work particularly well with the accompaniment, with Rodney allowing himself to sing quite powerfully at times, making this almost into a rock number.  

Matt and Lauren then joined the guys onstage to provide additional vocals on a song they collaborated on together, Keeping Up Appearances, which meant we had 4-way harmonies on the chorus, which was very nice indeed. Matt and Lauren took the second verse, giving us a preview of their glorious harmonies and what was to come shortly. Of all the songs so far, this was the most immediate, punchy and with plenty of hooks. We then ended with Take It Slow, which Rodney described as the 80’s dance number and apparently it is how it was originally conceived, but is not how it ended up on the album. Overall, this was a nice set which I enjoyed immensely, and I look forward to hearing the release when it is out next year.  

Now it was time for Terrible Sons, who have released a few EPs, and with the album due next year decided they should do more than just a few odd dates, and this is their first actual tour. They started with Ruffle, and straightaway we were falling into the depth of their beautiful voices, with restrained guitar and delicate notes on the piano. They are set up on a diagonal as opposed to directly facing the audience and when singing they can often be found looking at each other, taking their cues. We were then warned it was going to get really quiet tonight and probably a little sad, and as we moved into Rolling Thunder we could all understand exactly what they meant, as they create a spell with their sounds which are as delicate as a gossamer web. It is the intertwining of the four threads of piano, guitar, male and female vocals, which make their music special, but their songs often also contain an inner strength and power and when notes are accentuated, they are transformed. This may start quietly, but by the end they have turned it something far more dramatic and intense.   

Streets of New Love is based on piano, with Matt adding some delicate picking, and Lauren taking the vocal lead. We were now three songs in and each one had been very different, joined together by the sublime vocals. This was the first time Lauren really allowed herself to show the power of her voice, pushing hard and showing exactly what she can do when she really wants to. It was explained to everyone that the next song, What A Friend, was a sad one, but it was okay as we would all get through it together, and their self-deprecating style is incredibly endearing as their music is special and from a time gone by when music was valued and created as opposed to plastic throwaway trash designed to only ever be played in the background and never really listened to. The Wine Cellar felt transformed as everyone was transfixed by the two people in front of them and no-one was making a sound in case the spell was broken. It was during this number that Lauren sang in a lower register than she had been frequenting so far, and I was amazed at just how much like Stevie Nicks she sounded. Hold Fire the closest we had come to a rock song yet, with the guitar being riffed with a hard strike, a repeated piano motif, and the vocals sharp and loud.

Then we had the song which even they called an anomaly, Tears, as no-one knows who they are, yet this song has had 20 million plays on Spotify. It may have been pointed out, both before and during, that it was written after Matt didn’t wake up one morning so did not collect Lauren from the airport… There is a country feel to this, which has a real edge, and certainly loads of passion. Alright Alright was inspired by a friend of theirs who suffered with addiction problems, and as with many of their songs the lyrics take us on a journey where we are expected to think about what we are hearing, and that it should impact us. There was nice traditional organ patch used on this, which added a very different element to what had come before, while Lauren also added musical whistling to her list of talents. With World of Walking also showing a more dramatic arrangement, it was interesting to see how the audience were absolutely rapt, concentrating intensely on the duo in front of them. 

It is the combination of delicate arrangements and harmonies combined with thoughtful lyrics and music which make these guys such an absolute delight to listen to, and with Tomorrow Always Comes (the latest single) taking us on yet another journey I was concerned as I knew there were not too many songs left in the set, but it felt as if it should go on forever. Hold Your Light High was inspired by a book of poetry and has a more gospel feel, with the concentration on piano and harmonies. It is a song of sections, with the bridge showing yet another delicate side, as well into their world. Sunset Swimming is the name of the tour, and also of the next song, with Lauren and Matt still looking at each other as they played, with us being onlookers into a private world. The last song was about living in Christchurch, “a quake song”, and commenced with Lauren singing plaintively and Matt picking some notes on the guitar. This was the first time Lauren singing a verse on his own, but Matt came in on the second verse of Dark Song to provide the harmonies we had come to expect, before letting Lauren singing on her again. This was also the only song not to feature keyboards, apart from held-down chords near the end so was quite different in many respects and gradually built until it allowed Lauren to show off her powerful vocals once again. 

They then invited Rodney back, and for the second time in just over a week I heard a band playing a song by The Cure, this time it was Just Like Heaven. I must confess to not remembering it sound quite like this, as with the electronic drum beat care of Rodney, it sounded quite summery and cheery, not quite the right sound for the godfathers of goth. This was obviously under rehearsed, and with the fluffs and genuine humour on the stage was a wonderful end to a great night. What a gig.

Photo Credit: Kev Rowland


About Terrible Sons

Terrible Sons is the moniker for songwriters and musicians Lauren and Matt Barus, who live with their two children in a small intentional community in Otautahi. Their music reflects their local neighborhood while exploring the more interior feelings we all share: exhaustion, heartbreak, loneliness. Previously, Lauren released albums as L.A. Mitchell and currently is still a part of the Fly My Pretties family. Matt founded pop/rock band Dukes who had a top ten hit with Vampires and of note toured with and wrote songs for Blondie.

Terrible Sons emerged after the couple had children and sought a less obtrusive way of making music. They built a small, home studio and invited others in. Taking their cues from folk tradition, the duo blend their two voices, backed with spare piano and acoustic guitar. An early single Tears Don’t Fall gained millions of listens on Spotify and the duo were signed remotely to Vancouver’s Nettwerk Records. Terrible Sons, working alongside producers Ben Edwards and Tom Healey, and their go-to rhythm section of Jo McCullum and Jo Barus, have released four EP’s to date and are close to completing their debut LP.

“Truly ethereal. Everything is melded together so well that it’s dreamlike, the listener is suspended in time". - hhhhappy.com

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