It was a very special night at The Tuning Fork in Auckland, NZ last night with the This is Tami Neilson Songwriter Series show along with her brother Jay Neilson. Not your standard gig tour with a band, this was a stripped-down version with the two singers, guitars and a (very expensive Swedish) shaker or two.
When Radio 13 interviewed Tami back in August, she talked candidly about creating her own template of how touring would look for her life and her needs. She admitted she’d missed a trick, and it was about time to bring back her ‘best friend’, her brother Jay on an NZ tour. Over two weeks they cover seven venues with up-close-and-personal stories and songs tracing Tami’s life and music. Read Tami's interview with Radio 13's Clare Martin here.
Opening the evening was singer-songwriter from the deep south of New Zealand, Jenny Mitchell. Accompanying her was Mike Hood who added soft touches of harmonica, slide guitar and vocals.
A voice with hints of Gillian Welch and Missy Higgins, [Jenny] Mitchell’s style was gentle and open-hearted.
A voice with hints of Gillian Welch and Missy Higgins, Mitchell’s style was gentle and open-hearted. Her honest storytelling was a good warm-up for the more fiery candour of the main artist. A nice line-up of songs including Ends of the Earth and her signature tune Troubadour held the audience in thrall. Definitely more listening of this song-writer needed.
The sound production for Jenny Mitchell was excellent, allowing her voice to glow and giving clarity to guitar and other instruments.
Tami and Jay arrived and welcomed us to their lounge, a backdrop re-creation of their childhood home, family portraits and snaps on the wall, flowery couch and wicker lampshade. Everything but the avocado shag-pile carpet and matching telephone. Immediately Tami made us welcome into her story and with her brother at her side we could feel how well these two get along. Despite quite a lot of tweaking of sound during their first five songs, the Neilsons handled this with such good humour that I think they should keep that routine!
The special thing about last night was being allowed into the sibling relationship and being taken on the autobiographical journey… all the way from a lil tale about Sesame Street to supporting country music star Kitty Wells. These are unique secrets they shared - learning the hard lessons of music and touring life from the cradle - the three Neilson kids put on stage alongside their parents as soon as they could talk.
The bitter tale of losing all their money to their manager and the terrible strife of a family thrown on their wits on the poverty line. She knew all the pitfalls of being in music, and yet it didn’t stop her ….. Tami shrugs wryly and looks at Jay who smiles back. He understands.
Their [Tami & Jay Neilson] vocal pairing is intuitively matched born of their history, they breathe and move as one music organism, a joy to behold...
And for the first time in NZ since 2007, Jay is stepping out from behind the songwriting and fronting with Tami. Their joint songwriting has always been part of Tami’s success but now performing together we see their real connectedness. Their vocal pairing is intuitively matched born of their history, they breathe and move as one music organism, a joy to behold. Harmonies inspired by pedigree such as the Everly Brothers, Jay added harmonies to Tami’s lead on A Woman’s Pain which lent heart to this recounting of their grandmother’s story - “Partake of pleasure and reap the shame / the hand that holds the power assigns the blame / and this whole world turns on a woman's pain”.
Jay’s fluid and skilled energy and fleet storytelling on guitar was the main musical backbone of the night. He delivered sweet sounds on electric guitar, acoustic and bass as well as juggling complex backing vocals to Tami’s lead, no mean feat.
Tami Neilson’s a total class act, a mint condition (definitely 1950s) Cadillac Coupe de Ville...
Of course, the main vehicle for the evening was Tami’s smoking hot vocals. From top to bottom she can do anything vocally that she needs and desires. Tami Neilson’s a total class act, a mint condition (definitely 1950s) Cadillac Coupe de Ville...
Tami generously and candidly shared the hayrides as well as the bottom of the barrel moments of her life. Stories such as meeting her Kiwi hubby (Woo Hoo from her 2014 album Dynamite), breaking into the NZ scene with help of the Topp Twins (her awesome hit Big Boss Mama of 2019), having her first baby and winning her first Silver Scroll (Texas teaming up with Delany Davidson and Marlon Williams in 2014), the lamingtons and celebrations on becoming a NZ citizen (Cry Myself to Sleep in part Te Reo).
A brand new song Ten Tonne to be released on their 2020 album was about being kids having to busk to support the family and their dad’s depression, a story that goes to your heart, punctuated with Tami’s bitter low laugh in rhythm with the song.
Last night, Tami Neilson really stepped forward to her fans, she was ready to share her up-close-and-personal stories. As well as having many belly laughs with her brother on stage, their stories were truly real. After all, the real stories create the need to sing and it’s the stories that feed the songwriting and the always excellent lyrics. And she’s not scared about talking and singing about the tough stuff, that’s why we love her.
How special to be invited to Tami and Jay’s ‘family home’. It was a quality evening and the audience was gifted incredible songs, generous performing and came away with a whole life story, that makes us all best friends for life.
This Is Tami Neilson continues on to the Nelson Arts Festival tonight, followed by Leigh Sawmill and the Tauranga Arts Festival. Details and tickets available here.