At the Whammy Bar in New Zealand, a varied crowd packed the basement venue for Cate Le Bon’s sold out Auckland tour date. Billed as a pre-album tour, a devoted crowd of fans crammed in with the scent of their wine filling the air on the warm Saturday evening. The support act for the Welsh artist was Kiwi duo Purple Pilgrims.
This was the last show of a five-date tour of Aotearoa for the solo singer, during which time she had traversed the country, beginning in Dunedin and including Christchurch. This was my first time seeing Le Bon; she has a rich history of collaboration and perhaps this has helped with defining her own unique style. Le Bon has previously spoken of her creative workings, she succinctly phrased it as satisfying curiosity and exploration within herself, and it shows. Her highly original sound is a product of a well-cultured process as well as reflective of her immense talent. Her voice live tonight was bliss. They got the sound right. However, the crowd were a little rowdy, but this might also be the acoustics of the venue. I stood in the centre of Whammy, necessarily close, as really everyone was, and was lucky to have the perfect view.
The support act, Purple Pilgrims, were a female duo who were variously influenced and who had a history which included noise art. They performed tracks with a dream-like focus, their voices harmonised and the music layered. For me, the guitar-led tracks were their strength. For the most part, their lyrics were almost indecipherable. The music was experimental, repetitive and ethereal. I particularly loved the intensity of the performance and the final track of their set Drink The Juice which brought together an electronic tone and witty lyrics. I sort of felt like this music was the perfect accompaniment to the classic film Labyrinth, bear with me - it was a strange, atmospheric and at times unsettling music and reminded me of the feeling I got watching the imagination-filled fantastical film.
Cate Le Bon settled in front of her keyboard. She had a shock of white blonde hair and arrived with instant concentration and poise. I think I knew from the 2016 album, Mug Museum was a standout track of the night for me. I loved that this album reflected a time in which the artist learnt to be a potter... producing 200 mugs as part of the release of the album.
Quirky, yes and autobiographical in a novel way.
The lyrics performed live had something of a lament to them, and they made me think of those times where your thought patterns meander... looking for answers.
There was the debut of a new track The Light. Poet Seamus Heaney, when asked for the thread which united the theme of his all his poetry, said it was light that was the eternal inspiration. This new song was a delicate meditation on light. It was a song which I really felt Le Bon wanted to connect with the audience. It seemed like there really is a desire for this artist to ‘keep moving’ creatively, with new collaborations announced in the media and an album in the final throes of execution... it is the cusp of the new work which drives her on.
Le Bon covered Paul McCartney's song Waterfall. It was an interesting cover and ideal for the musical arrangement on stage. It tipped the audience from a chatty Saturday night crowd into silent attentiveness which acknowledged the beautiful vocals and performance. When you listen to her back catalogue, Le Bon is probably characterised by a sound which has spontaneity, but tonight there was a distinct tone. it was low-key, slow and deliberate. It might have been because of the absence of the guitar, the piano leading every song instead.
Another favourite of the night was Love Is Not Love, I enjoyed how the Welsh accent extended consonants and in Le Bon’s masterful tone overlaid the sound and interaction of voice and piano. I’m left wondering whether this gig somehow predicts the direction of her new music. The set was decisively short, she was there and then she was gone, we were all left wanting more. I turned to a stranger, even as the crowd dissipated, and asked if she would be back.
Cate Le Bon’s new album is due out late April and hopefully, an album tour is to follow.