Saturday, October 28
When Anika Moa doesn’t give a fuck it is obvious.
And so it was strange to see her in concert celebrating the 10th Anniversary of her third album, In Swings The Tide. It seemed an excuse for a tour rather than any real celebration – no merchandise, not that much of a song and dance, and for the first handful of numbers she was sleep-walking through them, her voice neither strong nor full of the charm and character it so often, so easily exudes. There was – to be clear – nothing terribly bad about it. The band (Jol Mulholland on guitar, Chip Matthews on bass, Tom Broome on drums) sounded fantastic. And between songs Moa’s trademark banter (and, within that, her unpredictability) was on full display. So there was always enough to get it over the line – I’m sure a lot of people go to see Anika Moa live in as much for what she’ll say as for what she will play. But the first few songs didn’t really ‘hit’. Dreams In My Head is a competent number always – due to its ubiquity in her set, but Wise Man Say and Miss Universe didn’t mean a whole lot. And I got the feeling that some of these songs just don’t actually mean all that much to Moa anymore, giving off even more the vibe that this was a random anniversary to be celebrating, an excuse for a show.
By the time of the title track we could hear the voice taking shape, more enthusiasm, My Old Man was strong, it’s another gig-highlight so often and clearly means a lot to Moa.
Hangin’ Around still bugs me – it feels like a throwaway song that was never correctly developed. But Standing In This Fire was extraordinary. Moa singing her brand of torch balladry is unbeatable – heart on sleeve, lump in throat stuff.
For Honey You’ll Be Alright she invited a straggly bunch of front-rowers up to provide backing vocals – and again there’s something very impressive about the way Moa can give her show over to chaos and wrestle back control from situations that stumble toward parody; her authority a part of her on-stage magnetism.
At the conclusion of the In Swings The Tide album (verdict: some strong songs, still, they’ve lasted – about half of them still mean the world to Moa, many of them don’t) Anika picked up an electric guitar and it was instantly palpable. A spark ran through the new material, a handful of as-yet-unrecorded tunes harked back to the sound and spirit of her debut. There was urgency, there were hooks – tasteful playing from her expert accompanists – and she was in fine voice. It’s the best run of brand new songs I’ve heard in this sort of context in quite some time. It’s her best writing (for adults) since she started creating albums for kids. Most of the new tunes almost all sounded like hits – on first hearing. And even the gimmick of a song called ‘If I’m So Crazy Then Why Are You My Friend’ was transcended by the star-quality of the tune and feel. A knowing video could turn that into a viral hit, bit it’s certainly not mere folly.
Youthful from Thinking Room and Running Through The Fire from Love In Motion were the feel-good set-closers. Again absolutely nailed. Full passion, no waking-sleep slow stroll. And then the lone/loan encore, a cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. She created a crowd singalong, before calling Mulholland back to the stage for yet another tremendous and utterly ego-less guitar solo. They’re a winning pair. Their ongoing collaboration and musical friendship continues to inspire, to pay dividends.