29 Jan 2023

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  • Midnight Green - Gig Review: Midnight Green & Kazia @ The Thirsty Dog, Auckland - 21/01/2022

Midnight Green - Gig Review: Midnight Green & Kazia @ The Thirsty Dog, Auckland - 21/01/2022

21 Jan 2023 // A review by Kev Rowland

After being blasted the previous night at Dead Witch, tonight I was at The Thirsty for what promised to be a very different affair indeed, with two soul/jazz/pop bands. Beforehand I was talking to the bar manager who told me that soon they will be closing for renovations, after which they will open up with the stage in a different place, and it promises to be much improved, so I am really looking forward to seeing the end results. I don’t often attend events where there is a DJ beforehand, and when I do it is generally Lauren Borhani blasting out tunes, but tonight it was Mitchell Goodfellow (ex-Big Tasty, Midnight Green) who was getting everyone in the mood. That band was certainly a theme with one member in Kazia and another in Midnight Green.

First up tonight are Kazia, a band new to me who feature vocalist Phoebe Walsh (Brown Sugar Factory), drummer Oliver Prendegast (Strangely Arousing), bassist/flautist Michael Anderson (The Vibes) and keyboard player Michael Ligani (Big Tasty). They cite influences of Bey, Amy Winehouse and Michael McDonald, so it promised to be an interesting set. They recently released a six-track EP, Gloves Off, and we would be treated to a few of those songs tonight, and they kicked off with a couple from that release, starting with Sink or Swim. Straight away I could see why they mentioned Amy Winehouse as an influence as that was immediate, with Phoebe in total control while the band got everything grooving with plenty of tempo changes. Michael even stopped playing bass at one point to add a few bars on the flute, taking the music in another direction. I understand why there is no guitar, as there is not enough room inside the arrangements, with both the bass and keyboards providing different melodies, intertwining in and around the drums, creating a tapestry of sound for Phoebe to sing against. You’re Home Early has a lot of words, but Phoebe was already into the groove and in her element and the microphone was off the stand as she displayed total confidence.

For Tears Dry they were joined by a saxophonist – who they said they only met that day, and if that is the case then he is a quick learner as he sounded like he had always been there with a perfectly formed solo while the two Michaels linked in more closely. Wanderer saw them back as a quartet with Michael A providing some backing vocals and some insanely complex basslines, which at times seem more of what I would expect in a tech prog band, but always linking with the others. Michael M has a delicate touch on keyboards, mostly providing piano but using other sounds  when the time is right, providing intricacies and nuances as well as some lovely rippling runs. Oliver ensures he never overplays, but is there when needed, and then Phoebe is in front of all of it. Musically they mix up influences from jazz and soul through pop, but I was amazed when I recognised one of the covers they were playing, Georgy Porgy, which was just superb, but I wonder how many people know that was actually a number from Toto’s debut album?  They followed it with another Seventies number with Phoebe giving us her best Stevie Nicks impression as they did Dreams, which had everyone singing.

They then slowed it down, giving it much more of a late-night vibe, and everyone was now dancing instead of singing, and there was no doubt the band had the audience exactly where they wanted them. I Want You Back kicked off with nice drum and bass interplay, and what I really liked about them way they treated their covers that unless you knew the original then the listener would have thought they were written by the band, although this one did feature some lush backing harmonies from the two Michaels, while Phoebe very much made this song on her own and they finished the last few lines acapella. I Wanna Be Your Lover allowed the guys to up the tempo, for the rhythm section to strut and for the keyboards to be more in your face with a very Eighties sound. Phoebe can sing smooth, throw in edges, even scat, all with total confidence and control. We even got a nice bass solo in this one, warm and with plenty of passion, and did not overstay its welcome. That they can cover music as diverse as Toto, Jackson Five, Prince and Beyoncé (Ego), yet make it all their own, shows incredible skill, and certainly the crowd reacted. They finished with the title from their EP, Gloves Off, which again had more of a sultry Amy feel, with some nice smooth jazz overtones. This burst into a Latin groove at the end, with some sizzling piano, and the rhythm section keeping up and Phoebe dancing, getting the crowd moving one last time. This is a very compelling band indeed, and somehow, I know this is not the last time I will be seeing them.

Now it was time for the sultry style of Midnight Green who have slightly changed both their name and line-up since I last saw them and now comprise Billie (vocals), Niki Te Whaiti (saxophone), Mitchell Goodfellow (guitar), Zahn Foster (bass), Jordan Neal (drums) and James French (keyboards, trumpet). They kicked off with Under Covers, and the mood changed into something which was just right for the time of night, with Billie having a lovely bluesy broad range and the confidence to really use it, and the band slowing it right down into something which was full of soul and heart. It is music which reaches inside and commands people to listen, then get into the groove and dance. With more musicians they were using a wider musical palette than Kazia, and Niki has a wonderful touch on the sax, but both he and Mitchell kept it restrained so they was plenty of room for the keyboards and bass. Somewhat surprising in many ways is the amount of space within the arrangements, with the full band often not all playing for considerable lengths of time, with Nobody being a case in point, where at times it was almost just Billie and the rhythm section. This also featured a nice drum section, where the band kept coming in and out while Jordan played some jazz breaks.

It was interesting to hear the difference between them and Kazia, as while both bands do have some similar influences, it is like a musical venn diagram where there is some overlap but they are actually coming at it from quite different directions, driven in some ways by the singers. While Phoebe has a fresh voice which works well with more poppy styles, Billie is in the rich tradition of blues-based jazz and soul singers with breadth and weight, so Midnight Green stay more in that area. Niki gave us a nice solo in Taste of You, but as he ended Billie came in with real passion, almost growling in her approach. They can be more upbeat when they wish to, as they demonstrated on Been Bad, but with a voice which has a lot more in common with Janis than Beyoncé I can imagine Billie performing Mercedes Benz as opposed to something out of the pop charts. The sultry tone came out on Do What You Gotta Do, slowing everything down and allowing the music to just flow.

Boadicea is quite a strange number as James duetted with Billie while the accompaniment was provided solely by Zahn who was mixing in chords with his usual playing, providing a very different approach and a song which was very different to what had taken place previously. The band were all back for Van Morrison’s Moondance, here turned into a soulful jazz number which of course allowed Niki to go through his paces (it originally started life as a sax solo after all). Niki told me before the gig that they were more than happy to play two hour sets now (not tonight), so they have been really building on their stagecraft which is why they are so tight and relaxed, as everyone knows their place and they are all content to sit back and ensure everything is in its place. While Billie allows herself to let rip at the right time, she also ensures everything is in keeping with the arrangement, and towards the end of The Singer it all sped up and Mitchell gave us a rocking solo as they built towards a climax. Good To Me ended with another guitar break, then the keyboards started, Niki gave us a quick solo, and we were into Smooth Operator, here slightly faster and with more depth than Sade’s original (is that song really nearly 40 years old now?). We were provided with some nice bass runs here before Niki launched into the sweet and way too short solo. Billie was holding back some of her normal styles, but the chorus did give her the opportunity to let rip, even if it was only in a moderate manner.

The next song was announced a new one which they had only written the previous week (it wasn’t), and some lovely bass led into Just The Two of Us, which allowed Billie to do some scat while the bass was dominant and the rest of the guys kept it together (nice punchy snare on this).  We were heading towards the end of the set now, but they now upped the tempo with a Tom Misch’s Disco Yes, which saw Niki in the audience dancing along with everyone else, as the groove was so infectious. The night ended with James leaving his keyboards and picking up his trumpet, Niki back up on stage, and the audience singing along to Fat Freddy’s Drop’ classic Wandering Eye and dancing for one last time. The crowd were not going to let them get away with that, so James stayed with his trumpet, and we ended the night with Valerie, and many smiles, both in the audience and on the stage.

It was a wonderful evening at The Thirsty with two great bands which kept the room moving all night. Both Kazia and Midnight Green know how to deliver what the audience wants, and provide a good time party atmosphere which is a load of fun.

Photo Credit: Kev Rowland


About Midnight Green

Midnight Green - a deliciously sultry, soulful and exciting 6-piece original band based in Tamaki Makaurau Auckland. Led by frontwoman Billie Rose, featuring saxophone + trumpet, Midnight Green are influenced by artists such as Hiatus Kaiyote, Amy Winehouse, Fat Freddy's Drop and Fleetwood Mac. Their original music offers a mix of high energy, smooth and sultry, powerful and emotive vibes that will take listeners on a journey.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Midnight Green


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