4 May 2017, Common Room
Hawke’s Bay is well-endowed with big talent, many of them Bay homegrowns who have flown and returned to ‘settle’, have lived elsewhere, been there, seen that and now just want a bit of peace-and- (dare I say quiet?).
The size of their skill and experience can’t quite squeeze itself into our provincial proportions. We don’t really realise what we’re lucky enough to have. We might lean towards taking their talent just a little bit for granted.
There’s a bunch of them on stage tonight led by the unrivalled talents of Anton Wuts: Rosie Langabeer (piano, accordion, trombone), Matt Mear (trumpet), Matiu Whiting (double bass) and Joe Dobson (drums).
The set for this evening is New Zealand music classics. It is perhaps a soundtrack for anyone gigging (the first time around) in the 1990s, full of Chris Knox, Front Lawn, Shihad. But these reimaginings of the familiar are a stripping down of each song into its critical components. It’s all still here, but what was soft is now beefed up; that catchy melody enlarged and emboldened so it’s barely recognisable; where there was once gentle guitar there is now ballsy brass.
There are refrains that niggle at the audience, see them shazamming madly, muttering “I know this!” But then the tune whips off again and they’re lost in it, it’s gone, it’s become bigger than them, unfamiliar, unsettling.
On one level this gig is fun. Like it’s fun to play with your food. It’s nice to mix things up a bit, trick the listener, woo them with the familiar then whisk that away to leave them saying “I have no idea what this is.” But there’s more to it: Tonight is a stepping stone towards a maturing of our national identity, the way we handle and respond to our archetypal New Zealand cultural icons. In hearing these renderings we are moving past a simple reverence towards analysis. Rather than just swallowing whole what makes us proud Wuts and band are ripping it to pieces to see what it’s made of, chewing on it to release its flavour, reheating it, serving it to us in unfamiliar ways. In this way the familiar peels of something like Crowded House can be heard anew, for its musical integrity and creativity rather than something that has become nationalistic stodge. Front Lawn’s Andy becomes again that heart-wrenching lament it was the very first time we heard it, rather than the catchy hit we were left with after listening to it on high rotate. Through these big brave intelligent jazz reworkings, we get to fall for our favourites again.