After releasing one of the albums of the year in the form of Avantdale Bowling Club, Avondale rapper Tom Scott bought his-jazz rap ensemble to the beautiful Mercury Theatre last night and boy oh boy what a show it was!
Avantdale Bowling Club, as an album, is a masterpiece in modern-day jazz rap, with lush jazz arrangements set to Tom’s very personal and reflective lyrics. Given this, it would be interesting to see how these songs would translate into a live setting, and, indeed, how they would be received by an audience who no doubt arrived for the show already with extremely high expectations.
The show began with Scott’s seriously talented six-piece band featuring Julien Dyne, JY Lee, and Guy Harrison among others alone on stage playing a jazz interlude before Tom walked on to join them to rapturous applause.
From here things got real and highly personal in what was a homecoming show after two years for Scott.
After kicking things off with the beautiful Years Gone By, Scott went into full preacher mode telling the crowd about how much his home suburb of Avondale means to him and that the full effects of gentrification are destroying it. A theme that features strongly on the record. This was an emotional and heartfelt speech and you could tell the crowd felt the situation as strongly as Tom.
The intensity of this emotional moment was to last the entire set as Scott and his band then proceeded to take the crowd down on an incredible journey of jazz, rap, soul, and spoken word.
Tracks like Pocket Lint and F(r)iends were as brilliant live as they were on the record with Tom spitting out bars with vigour and immense power, while the band collectively and individually bought the house down with some stunning playing... some of the finest this reviewer has ever heard live. [Note from Editor: This says a lot because Sam has been to A LOT of gigs!]
For this night, at least, the ensemble Scott assembled for this album (and tour) felt like the best band of musicians in the world... with their high-class performance and improvisation skills that elevated Scott to another level as a performer and vocalist in what might have been, one of the best live performances by a New Zealand rapper ever.
This translated into a strong energy in the intimate venue for the whole set with people out of their seats and dancing to the more up-tempo numbers at the encouragement of Scott, “this isn’t the philharmonic orchestra, you can do what you want,” while the crowd also seemed to hang on every word Scott spoke and every lyric he rapped in what was a mixture of older jazz heads and younger rap fans... fans whom no doubt would have been with Scott since the Home Brew days.
The set was a wild ride with Scott and his band setting the bar so high that every song felt like the peak of the performance. Just when you thought the set had reached its peak and to be frank, every song in the first half felt like this, along came another performance which took the evening to another level.
For me, it was Water Medley and Home in particular that stole the night... with each song reinterpreted and rearranged for this show featuring a Gil Scott Heron improv from backing vocalist Mara TK, jazz prog arrangements, and the absolute standout - an a cappella performance of the last verse of Home from Scott.
I go to a lot of gigs and usually I find that at the most four out of every ten will wow me... meaning I will remember moments and not just the fact I was there. This was one of those gigs where I was wowed and where the musicians playing went over and beyond what I could ever have imagined.
An album as good as Avantdale Bowling Club requires a live show that measures up to the quality of the record. This live show did that in spades and Tom Scott’s homecoming was one for the ages and a gig this reviewer won’t forget in any hurry.