Thursday, September 3
Forgive the delay here, the late review, there were site issues and I worried that I’d missed my window reviewing this show – then remembered, just the other day, there’s still the Auckland version, a week or so to go, so no harm done in mentioning just how wonderful the Wellington show was. It might inspire a few ticket sales for Auckland – I’d certainly love to see this show again…
SJD’s Saint John Divine album is great – and I loved the road-versions we saw and heard when the band toured the album but this was something else. A string section live, with the full band too, it was an audacious project, and was greeted with a range of audience response from stunned silence to – eventually – a huge standing ovation. Some of the Saint John songs sounded spellbinding when heard in sequence, with strings attached. Jet Planes for instance. At other times it was about the subtle power of the band, the way drummer Chris O’Connor knows just how to colour – in fact if Donnelly’s own acoustic guitar felt like something of a median strip, that kind of marker, it was fun watching O’Connor go off-road, always arriving back (in time) to sit with the median strip.
As with Don McGlashan’s show in this same venue a few months earlier it was wonderful to see the bold confidence of a brand new album being played in its entirety.
And as the album moved along the highlights started to pile up (Helensville, Catseyes) leading to a closing song (Was I Always Here) that so perfectly suited this regal arrangement you could only imagine it performed under these circumstances; could imagine it being part of the impetus for pursuing this stage version of the album.
An encore-set had the band sans strings for several tracks from Songs from a Dictaphone. Interesting to hear how lively, how exciting these songs still sound – they were often the highlights of the band’s pub gig earlier in the year and it’s still the case with this theatre show. The strings were back for lovely versions of Beautiful Haze and then Superman, You’re Crying – a song that, for many, was the start of SJD appreciation/awareness, a song that’s been, erm, crying to be heard in this arrangement live for over a decade now.
Such a great band, such a great range of music – the songs so good, Donnelly’s voice wonderful, the playing exquisite. And again the backing vocals of Sandy Mill are really something to behold. So subtle as to almost not be there across the Saint John Divine cuts – but you can’t imagine those songs without what she brings. She’s also one of the most soulful percussionists I’ve ever seen – so thoughtful in the way she places what she does, what she brings to each song. But that could be said of all of the musicians on stage. With Mill though, it’s when we finally get to hear her wail – say the turbo-charged gospel of Jesus – when the full breadth of her astounding voice sneaks up and shakes your shoulders.