As Nadia Reid reminded the crowd at Wellington’s San Fran last night, her much-anticipated third album was supposed to be out “around now.” It’s not... which she continues to say is “for the better,” so she announced this tour to make up for it, and instead of a new album, we got another beautiful, if restrained, live performance.
Appearing on stage amongst some flowery decorations, the Lyttelton songwriter opened with what is presumably a song from that imminent album, in her usual melancholy guitar-picking mode. As her four-piece band settled into their positions, she followed with a surprising a-capella gospel-influenced piece to the snap of her own fingers, the other musicians then falling in with her. Then we were into the first familiar territory of the set, the beautiful title track from her acclaimed last album Preservation.
Reid seemed to be in an uncertain mood, as she often has been when I’ve seen her live (uncertainty is, after all, such a large part of the strength of her songs.) After the fourth song, the smooth swaying Track Of The Time, she announced “Now I’m feeling good... I don’t know what I was feeling before.”
The band were fantastic as always, drums, bass, keys, violin and Sam Taylor’s usual atmospheric electric guitar creating dense, rhythmic backings for the songs. Occasionally this meant Reid tossed off her usual guitar to focus entirely on her vocal delivery, as in the crowd favourite Richard. The solid and atmospheric musical backing meant that there was always something to focus on and appreciate, even in (what I believe to be) duller tracks like the plodding The Arrow & The Aim.
As Reid told the packed audience, this was a meaningful night because it was the first time she’d ever sold-out San Fran, a testament to her ever-growing popularity. The connection to Wellington was furthered by her songs’ many references to place names like Levin and Riddiford Street, drawing various vocal noises of recognition from the crowd.
Of course, the set was peppered with plenty of new material which will presumably surface sooner rather than later on her postponed third album. The best of this was the gorgeously plaintive All Of My Love, a song she has already been performing for a long time.
The Preservation highlight I Come Home To You was introduced with a humorous story as I’ve heard her do before, about the chance meeting with a man in the Dunedin botanical gardens and the proposition to “smoke you out” which inspired the song. Musically it’s always a delight live, the gorgeously simple chorus beefed up with layers of backing vocal harmonies.
The performance overall was everything anyone pays for a Nadia Reid ticket for. Considering the fact that she always seems slightly on edge and uncomfortable whenever I’ve watched her, she’s also remarkably consistent in sounding great live, relying of course on that beautiful and carefully delivered voice singing beautiful and carefully written songs. At times however, across the length of a full set, I begin to find her voice, or maybe just the general musical experience as a whole, a bit too careful, a bit too singular and restrained and unvarying.
Reid’s clever songwriting craft is responsible for her success, and for a load of great music, but it’s also this carefully-crafted feeling that can make it feel like a lot of processes have happened in between the emotions she sings about and the resultant song, a separation that often zones me out and makes me feel a bit disconnected from the whole performance.
However, this is just reflective of what I value in songs. She sounded fantastic, played a bunch of great songs, and the crowd loved it, for the sound and for the person. After the gorgeous Runway, from her debut album, a woman in front of me turned to her friend and whispered that it had almost brought her to tears. In Reid’s particular musical field, that’s the greatest mark of achievement possible.