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Tami Neilson - Gig Review: Tami Neilson @ The Civic, Auckland - 13/10/2023

15 Oct 2023 // A review by roger.bowie

It’s Friday night at The Civic and the vibe is rock ‘n’ roll as the immaculately costumed The Up-Doos jive on stage and launch into the Bobettes’ Mr Lee (the one before they shot him). The Up-Doos are a party band paying homage to the girl groups of the 50's and 60's. Esther Stephen, Aria Jones and Liv Tennant are strikingly choreographed in white boots and black diamond dresses and moves we haven’t seen since Shindig.

And this is it, Tami Neilson, the champion of all females in country and rock, the mentor, the big sister, the advocate, is back in town after an extensive tour throughout the US in a motorhome, with her family, re-creating the experience she had growing up on the road with the Neilson family. And in curating this retro review, naturally the focus is on women in rock ‘n’ roll. 

And if there ever was a moment we might be wondering, when The Up-Doos mention Lesley Gore we are left in no doubt, this is our party and we will cry, even if we don’t want to, we will cry, tears of joy and nostalgia.

The Hot Rockin’ Band of Rhythm for this tour includes Brett Adams (always), who plays anything all the time, along with the genius of Finn Scholes on keys and sax and even a giant tuba on his knees, looking like a man-eating plant. And the rhythm section ain’t half bad either, with Tom Broome on drums and Chip Matthews on bass.

Be My Baby by The Ronettes, the Phil Spector studio band back in the day he was merely salacious. Nancy Sinatra’s boots are pervasive on stage, and they are made for walking and rocking. The Exciters first did Doo Wah Diddy before Manfred Mann stole it in white supremacy, and even though the Exciters comprised three ladies and a man, we hardly notice the exception to the rule. Chiffons, Ella, Nina, Eydie, they all said we could have him, and Merry Clayton exemplified the times when extolling young debutantes to look for the man in his kiss.

It's a short Up-Doos set, but they aren’t going away, because here comes the miracle, something we never dreamt of before the show was announced a few months ago, and how typical of Tami to bring back Dinah Lee, the Blue Beat girl from the 60’s and New Zealand’s first female rebel. I remember her, I was there, 10 years old when this gorgeous creature in short skirt and bob hair caroused on the black and white TV set, and got the tut tut tut from my parents which meant, surely, I was going to fall in love, if only a little bit, and whatever that meant. But here she is, still moving, back home, back singing and we just fly Higher and Higher even though it was Jackie Wilson song. Don’t You Know Yockomo was a big hit here and then she was whisked away to Australia with her fellow Christchurch mods Max Merritt and Ray Columbus. A heartfelt tribute to Max, who slipped away from us just a couple of years ago. Tami comes on and joins in. Two divas divine.

Dinah Lee, she must be nearly 80…..she is 80!!!, and proud of it. Gracefully disgraceful. But what a voice, the only sign of age being a delightful little occasional rasp which just adds an edge. And when she introduces Reet Petite, she rolls that R in a way which would have her welcomed into every Southland home, even the tut tutting ones of yesteryear. Of course, she does the Blue Beat, one rebel to another (Millie Small) and even though I was sick of this song as the Beatles and the Stones took over my life, tonight it moistens my eyes. 

The sellout crowd stands in ovation and homage, and in grateful disbelief that the show isn’t over yet. 

And then here she is again, the Hot Rockin’ Band now minus Finn, (but the Up-Doos still jiving), and the Big Boss Mama is in total control, playing harp to introduce the funky Ain’t My Job from last year’s Kingmaker. A story about seeing Dinah on a Facebook page with Kaylee Bell and how that inspired her to include her in the show, and a tribute to her legacy and the trailblazing nature of her 60’s rebellion, with all the prejudice and pain. Come Over and Walk from her breakthrough album Dynamite, but squeezed in between, because it’s 9.30pm and little people are yawning, special guests creep on and take their places to sing along to Queenie. Tami’s two boys, 3 little Up-Doos (and one on the way) and Isla Williams (Simone’s granddaughter) are having fun and getting the feel of life on stage. They do not drop the ball. 

And now a little sequence in tribute of early female rock ‘n rollers, ignored by the record barons and white contemporaries (with a few exceptions). Sister Rosetta Tharpe was playing electric distortion in the 30’s, and wowed Keef and Eric when she toured England in 1964 with Muddy Waters. Her song tonight is Didn’t It Rain, an old spiritual about Noah’s ark, to which the Sister gave the rock ‘n’ roll treatment. And then comes Wanda Jackson who refused to play the Grand Ol’ Opry because Porter Wagoner told her to cover her shoulders. Wanda once dated Elvis, who told her she should shift from gospel to this dirty little secret called rock, and she became the Hard Headed Woman who’s a thorn in the side of a man. Big Mama Thornton did Hound Dog before Elvis made it famous, and Tami recounts the recent verbal atrocity from Jann Wenner which resulted in him leaving the Board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he founded but which is hardly relevant any longer apart from being a bastion of prejudice since inception.

Brett joins Tami to sing Woo Hoo from Dynamite and then follows a bevy of songs from Chickaboom! and Kingmaker before we are reminded not to be afraid with Holy Moses.

It’s over, wink wink, because it’s not, and we skip the formalities and back comes Dinah to join Tami in celebrating who she was back in the day when she was our first female Mod.

What a great show. Tami Neilson is an iconic force of nature who makes us proud that she’s a Kiwi. We are blessed.

(Did you know She’s a Mod was first released by a group from Birmingham called The Senators who featured a young John Bonham on drums? I didn’t. Thanks Rev!!)

The Up-Doos Setlist

1. Mr Lee
It’s My Party
Be My Baby
These Boots Are Made For Walking
Doo Wah Diddy
One Fine Day
You Can Have Him
8. It’s In His Kiss

Dinah Lee Set List

9. Higher & Higher
Don’t You Know Yockomo
Slippin’ Away
Midnight Hour
Blue Beat
Reet Petite

Tami Neilson Set List

15. Big Boss Mama
Ain’t My Job
Come Over
Didn’t It Rain
Hard Headed Woman
Hound Dog
Woo Hoo
Call Your Mama
Careless Woman
Mama’s Talkin’
Kitty Cat
Holy Moses
She’s a Mod

Photo Credit: Taiga Semori
The Up-Doos Gallery
Tami Neilson Gallery

Dinah Lee Gallery


About Tami Neilson

With a soulful voice straight from the golden age of country and rockabilly music, Tami Neilson has been described as "A red-hot honky-tonker, somewhere between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson with perhaps just a little bit of Peggy Lee sophistication.” - Nick Bollinger, NZ National Radio

Winner of the New Zealand Music Awards Best Country Album 2009, 2010 and 2012

Tami Neilson was raised in Canada, by parents with a closet full of sequined stage costumes and platform shoes.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Tami Neilson


Year: ????
Type: Album
Red Dirt Angel
Year: ????
Type: Album
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Don't Be Afraid
Year: 2015
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
The Kitchen Table Sessions
Year: 2010
Type: Album

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