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  • Troy Kingi - Gig Review: Troy Kingi & The Room Service @ San Fran, Wellington - 25/11/2023

Troy Kingi - Gig Review: Troy Kingi & The Room Service @ San Fran, Wellington - 25/11/2023

29 Nov 2023 // A review by Tom Langdale-Hunt

With his seventh album unleashed upon the world, and my subsequent review following suit, it's sufficed to say that I have been thinking about Troy Kingi a lot over the past few weeks...even more so than usual. What can I say about the man who relentlessly drops albums and movies like leaves in his wake while racking up awards and catapulting himself into the role of a kiwi household name? I suppose you could say that he's a dude who works pretty hard and is steadfast in his unique vision at the very least, but when you attend one of his gigs, you soon find yourself within a space of ease. A sort of casual acquaintance with him and his music, like it's no sweat to release an album of fresh songs every year in a different genre and then embark on a nationwide tour. I am nothing if not pleased to spend my Saturday night at San Fran with the man who is writing an imposing chapter in Aotearoa music. 

The build-up to the gig is a long one. As I assume my fly-on-the-wall position by the main entrance, I revert to taking in the environment around me and reflecting on my past experiences at Troy's gigs. Familiarity, community, and freedom has always been the scene. The opener, a retro DJ digging into a crate of his own vinyl, spins out psychedelic soul, fusion, house, and Afrobeats to a vibing crowd slowly filling the front of the venue. It seems everyone knows everyone here. Constant chatter and reunions build the atmosphere that I came to expect. A hint of anxiety settles over me as I realize how out of place I appear. Off to the side, my notebook open under the much-needed lighting of the main entrance for all to see - like I'm here to inspect the bars liquor license or something. 

In a blink and you'll miss it moment, the four piece is on stage and rolling out the low and atmospheric, Bastard, the first single from Time Wasters. I described the tune as relatively simple but taught with each band member locked into the groove, building up through ambient solo lines and dreamy strums from Troy's guitar to guide the direction, and this has translated flawlessly into the live rendition. 

Sporting probably the most recognizable head-wear in Aotearoa music, Troy steers us back to 2017 with Aztechknowledgey, a dash of his soulful cosmic album, Shake That Skinny Ass All The Way To Zygertron. This is where I came to realize that all this time listening to the instrumental works on Time Wasters has afforded me a sort of pallet-cleanse of Troy's voice. My re-introduction is a mind-blowing experience. His voice is like velvet, the range unbelievably sparse, measured, and as controlled as every other instrument in the ensemble. 

Fantasy League points out not only how tight and diverse this band is, but how well the house sound is doing. San Fran sounds fantastic tonight. The punchy bass and guitar riffs stomp along with the crowd, locked into the groove and immersed already so early into the set. The ultra-impressive trumpet solo from Forrest Thorpe sounds mega, almost an exact tonal replica of the album recording, becoming a real dominant performance in the night. 

In the cooldown phase, Sudoku, from the new album, and a welcome throwback with Cold Steel, is well received. Slow, sensual, the movement is still perpetual, the presence unbroken, even within the eternal running joke of the blaring San Fran hand-dryers. 

With the determined continuation of his 10/10/10 series (10 albums in 10 years, in 10 different genres), Troy has achieved a level of eclecticism that ensures attending one of his gigs is like putting your whole 'liked songs' playlist on shuffle. This is furthered when he treats us to an outrageously groovy version of Don't Go Back by Marlon Williams, whom I love dearly, but I cannot deny that this was a re-imagining of an already fantastic bop that I didn't know I wanted until I heard it. 

Speaking of eclectic, it's heartening to see Troy reaching a demographic of all ages. Such is his reach into both popular genres, and the perhaps under-appreciated. I suppose, simply, having a diverse audience is a partial consequence of having diverse music. His live performances always reinforce the position that he is uncompromising in his aspirations for human connectivity and self-expression, themes that know no borders. 

With un-phased casualness, he welcomes us all to the next chapter of his discography, pointing out that this is album number seven. I anticipate that while he is fully committed and extracting as much joy and fulfillment from his long-term project, he must be looking forward to its near culmination. I cannot imagine the sheer satisfaction and pride that he will feel when he achieves this goal that has been so long in the making. 

Troy points out to us one of the themes of his new album in that every song is named after a game, which he is sure everyone picked up on. Everyone EXCEPT ME. It seems I went through the process of reviewing an album and dissecting components while being so oblivious to something so obvious on the surface. I'm not much into board games, but I am stupid and embarrassed. However, this slight oversight has given me a second wind for revisiting and rediscovery within the collection. 

Rubix marches on with such full vocals that it's hard to believe it's just Troy and Forrest. Awash in reverb and a hint of other effects, the chant from the scarce vocal lines on the new album sound dynamic and rich, making expert use of the sonic space. As I noted in the initial review, the standout for me was in Marika Hodgson’s bass work, sitting beneath the reverberating guitar and vocals all night in a clean, rolled-back tone that allows her impressive runs to shine, especially in the jumps to the higher strings. It's always a joy to watch her and Troy blend their artistries in a live setting. A show like this relies so heavily on its rhythm section, and Marika and drummer, Trey Liu are more than up to the task, their prowess and synergy on display all night, particularly in the breakdowns of the expressive Sequence, where we are treated to a vibrant key solo from Forrest, highlighting his versatile mastery. 

Troy and the band punch out track after track from Time WastersHappy Colour, Chess, the sultry Link Link Link, he introduces the songs, admitting "yeah...it's another fucking gaaaaame" as if we are growing tired of the theme. The audience remains unaverred in their faith in their musical shaman, fully committed to the setting and fully along for the journey. 

It's a strange feeling to be writing in my notepad while the rest of the crowd get stuck into the rhythm, making the most out of the space they're afforded. Oh well, at least I'm not on my phone. That segways into my next observation, actually: I barely saw a single mobile phone the whole night. How rare is that? In the spirit of the communal experience that everyone relished in, Troy and his band were entrusted with the full attention of the mosh, and as a result, presided over one of the most receptive and engaged crowds I've seen at the venue. They deliver woops and cheers to egg on the band, welcoming them as friends and family. 

Within the theme of family, for what is easily the highlight of the night, as it was for the album, Troy welcomes his daughters on stage for Krispy Kreme, the vocal-centered culmination of Time Wasters where he steps aside and has the now-10 year-old Aio take the reins. The crowd is ecstatic for this, with Troy jokingly berating us over giving his daughters a bigger applause than for him. 

As they are on the album, his daughter's vocals are outstanding - all three of them. Their timing and harmonies are impeccable and fervent. The recording is beautiful, but the confidence, the ensemble, and joining of his daughter's voices is enough to summon tears. Aio cannot keep the smile off of her face as the audience reception is rapturous throughout, her voice leading with the calm and tranquility that her name holds. Troy reveals that this is their first performance of their young lives. The crowd erupts and I am floored. 

The Time Wasters suite comes to a close with Minesweeper and Presidents & Assholes, with Troy's guitar paving melodic pathways in place of vocals. It needs to be said that he has crafted an album that would ordinarily pose a challenge to an artist who is expected to deliver a certain sound or concept. Through his own operations, he has shaped himself as an artist free of predictability, and in this case, has allowed his iconic voice to take a back seat and allow him and his instrumentalists to speak for themselves. 

The reception really is like a family reunion, and with at least the presence of three of his daughters, which could very well be what this is. Lingering from the rare opportunity for a singalong tonight, the assembly beckons the band back on stage with a prolonged rendition of the hook of the Zygertron track, Grandma's Rocket Poem.

The band re-emerges quickly, with Troy thanking us for joining him for this episode. What better way to end the set than with a couple of selections from 2020's The Ghost of Freddie Cesar? Forrest is given the opportunity to smash out another jaw-dropping key solo in All Your Ships Have Sailed, the modulation evolving to a frequency where I am positive I will hear it in my eardrums for several hours to come. The night closes with my personal favourite of Troy's work, Nam Must Stay, a retro 70's political war thriller with vocal and guitar ferocity akin to Funkadelic's Super Stupid and infectious melodies and breaks, like in T. Rex's Buick Mackane. I have always considered the track to perfectly encapsulate the era it is inspired by, while remaining so unmistakably Troy. It's a hell of a delivery, and a hell of a culmination to send me on my way. 

I consider Troy's works, be they musical or on-screen, to be a pivotal catalogue in our country's arts & culture scene. It's an encouragement to artists who may be wary of taking risks and challenging the boundaries of their own comfort zones. Eccentric, eclectic, and uncompromising in his vision, he is an artist of longevity, putting in serious mahi that will result in a truly unique and inspirational discography to reach any listener. His tenacity and resolve in his constant meandering of exploration and experimentation is clearly appreciated by many who are more than happy to join him for the journey, which I'm sure will not cease when he reaches the finale of his epic master-plan series. As evident from his performance tonight, he isn't one to leave any gas in the tank.

Photos are from Auckland show on 23 November.
Photo Credit: Jack Mensah

Troy Kingi Auckland Photos
Troy Kingi Christchurch Photos


About Troy Kingi

Troy Kingi (Te Arawa, Ngapuhi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui) is an actor and multi-award-winning, multi-genre musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Described by the New Zealand Herald as “One of our finest Songwriters ”, Kingi rose to fame after the release of his first two multi-award-winning albums Guitar Party at Uncles Bach and Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygertron, along with memorable major roles in Kiwi films including ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’, ‘The Pa Boys’, ‘Mt Zion’ and ‘The Breaker Upperers’.

Since then he has gone on to roles in multiple New Zealand Films, TV Series, and television commercials.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Troy Kingi


Pu Whenua Hautapu, Eka Mumura
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Black Sea Golden Ladder
Year: 2021
Type: Album
The Ghost of Freddie Cesar
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Holy Colony Burning Acres
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Guitar Party at Uncle's Bach
Year: 2016
Type: Album

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