This night should really have been called an evening with Kendall Elise at the Anthology K Road. The venue was hidden down some stairs on Karangahape Road in Auckland, New Zealand. There was a dapper, retro looking crowd in attendance who were preened and decadent in their dress and style. Elise followed suite with a 1950’s via Frida Kahlo look. There’s a sense of occasion to the event, not only because it’s Valentine’s Day. The billed acts were Fran Robertson, rockabilly singer Alissa Place and her husband Kevin from band The Blue Roses as well as burlesque star Amourous Ava. It was a packed and almost non-stop evening of music and entertainment. It was also an opportunity for Elise to launch her new single Valentine Street.
When we arrived at the venue, daylight was still pouring in through the full length windows at the back of the venue; it was lighting up the stage inside and outside – there was an industrial view across the motorway and on towards the horizon. It was the first time I’d been in the slightly cavernous Anthology K Road. It was not full but there was only seats at the bar, with all tables being pre-booked at a premium. Alas, I think this scuppered the intimacy for those unorganised Valentine’s. Still, the evening’s called ‘Songs of Love and Heartache’ and I’m here for the latter.
Anthology K Road is a cool venue: concrete walls, peeling paint, chandeliers and black circular booths dotted around the place; it had bags of charm.
When interviewed, Kendall Elise had reported that her music was solace and that Nick Cave was an influence in her writing and composing. She had a history of playing in bands and tonight she was with her band, The Belgraves, but she was definitely a strong standalone act. She was hosting the night, including introducing guests and chatting to the crowd.
The standout performances for me were a cover of a Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, it was paired back, slowed-down and divine in Elise’s country tone. Elise brought authentic emotion to her work. There was almost a pin drop silence as she performed this song, and charmingly one of her band member’s captured her performance on his phone whilst on stage. We were all fans I think. The other song that was wonderful and really fantastic live was Elise’s last single Clocktower. From the moment I walked in and sat at the bar and the band began to play, I was really happy that the sound system was amazing. Despite the occasional din of chatter at the bar, the performances were clear and few adjustments were needed throughout the night. It was a real treat.
Before I saw Kendall Elise, I was trying to pinpoint who her vocals reminded me of; she was an original, but I saw there were some influences from singers I loved since I was young. As the performance progressed, I realised I was remembering the dreamy longing that Mary Hopkin brought to her music and the energy and strength of Patsy Cline’s delivery.
The set had a mix of genres from country, folk and with elements of pop. There was a slow melodious tone of longing, reflection and poetic delivery, especially when Elise was on stage with the glamorous Fran Robertson. Elise introduced her as a former pin-up New Zealand winner and then we could all see why as Robertson arrived dressed divinely in red. She took to the stage with her ukulele. Elise and Robertson’s harmonies on the cover of Carole King’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow? was just superb.
Alissa Place brought a welcome raucous performance to the evening, delivering her duets with Elise with energy and obviously loving being on stage. The audience was enthusiastic in return.
The song choices were carefully chosen. It helped that Elise’s voice was so strong. There are some artists, who when they sing, you feel like you are in a deep and meaningful conversation with them. On occasion, this is what Elise brought to her performances... it was intense, professional and beautiful to bear witness to. There was a lot of songs of heartbreak, but then maybe that’s what inspires artists the most.
Elise’s lyrics were full of curiosity and poetry.
The surprise of the evening were the lyrics and music to a song called Kirk’s Bush. Elise introduced the song, explaining it was inspired by an area near where she grew up. A place where she was warned not to go. Elise tapped into something universal for me in this song. I think we all have a Kirk’s Bush: somewhere we have been warned not to go to, because it’s not safe. The song was also darker in tone and I really think this was strength for this songwriter.
The final guest for the evening was Burlesque act Amourous Ava. she moved around the stage as if she was a heroine from a Joshua Reynolds painting, full of gracefulness and dressed in silk and satin. It was a short performance but captivating and fun.
The evening was rounded off with a few more songs from Kendall Elise’s oeuvre and an encore. The crowd were treated to an excellent evening of entertainment in a venue which provided atmosphere and something different to the nearby gig venues on Auckland's K Road.