It’s a tricky business nailing down Auckland gigs and venues in this year of Covid uncertainty. But we are so glad Stretch persevered and scheduled a gig in the dim wonderfulness that is the Wine Cellar in Auckland last night. With cellist Paula Sugden and Arahi Whaanga on drums, Stretch is on a North Island tour with his sophomore album “Our Dreams are Changing”.
One of the bonuses of getting out to gigs again is being introduced to a new artist. Arahi Whaanga picked up a guitar and stepped humbly onto the stage, introducing us to a shy, mysterious and beautiful set. Intricate guitar work with a soft shuffle of fingers creating rhythm on the fretboard, a voice of wistful expression. And a version of Glen Campbell’s ”Wichita Lineman” which I liked way more than the original. More needed, watch that space.
As well as checking out Stretch’s new album, you should also see this artist’s electric live act. With the guaranteed energy of “Less Rock More Roll” and his anthem “Come Back to my Arms”, Stretch started with his trademark high octane. With Paula on cello creating the bass and backing vocals voicing, with Arahi kicking the sound along and the punchiness of Stretch on mouth organ, this really rocked.
I have a soft spot for the soft songs. “Nothing Can Hurt You” is one of the best songs (IMHO) from his first album and gives scope to hear this singer’s sorrows. Delivered straight out to the audience, this cut right to our hearts. The Nick-Drakeness of “Lonely Star” from the new album had a beautiful melancholy and was a perfect match between guitar and Paula’s cello. The latter song had a better sound balance with cello not too at the front.
We learnt that Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 and a bar in Hawke’s Bay was where the Paula and Stretch team started. The song “Six Tears” references the Bach and takes it to an edgier, exciting place. It was quite an angry and noisy version of this song intersected with the total magic of Paula soloing a section from the Suite. Would love to see more of this kind of classical/rock weaving.
“Walk on the Water” went even edgier and it totally blew the roof off. This song had real spike and angularity to spit out the lyrics ‘I’ve walked on the water/ I’ve listed your names/ No more sons or daughters/ I’ve walked on their graves’. “The Turning” poured cool waters on the fires, giving a nice opportunity to hear the gleam of cello legato.
Despite it being only the second gig with the trio in performance, by “Here Come the Starlings”, Arahi on drums had relaxed into a comfortable rhythm. I missed the backing vocals and keys you hear in the album version of “Hold Fast Hold True” but the live song had a nice upbeat quality before Stretch returned to visit some of his old ghosts in the last two songs of the evening.
A new level of emotional voltage from this seasoned live performer bringing a very welcome life to our Sunday evening. We wish Stretch, Paula and Arahi a fantastic tour - go catch this dark troubadour and get yourself some high octane live energy.
Our Dreams are Changing Tour
The Globe Theatre, Palmerston North on Fri 13 Nov - bookings
Pow Wow Room, Wellington on Sun 15 Nov - bookings