Tami Neilsen and her BIG BOSS band brought the house down at the Civic last night for the concluding gig of the longest three date tour ever imagined. First announced on the eve of our first lockdown for June, that didn’t happen. Then another date was organised for September, and Covid hit for the second time. Third time lucky? Yes, but only just, as most of Auckland held breath for Friday’s latest news, and even though Covid exists just up the road, a near capacity crowd at the Civic said enough! We want our Tami, even behind our mask.
So out comes Tami in a mermaidish dress covered in blinking eyes, in front of a twelve piece orchestra comprising brass and strings, and alongside a three piece band with two backing singers. It’s Las Vegas in Auckland as she launches into a very James Bondish version of “Dynamite” from her breakthrough album of the same name released in 2014. Another song from the same record follows, “Walk Me Back To Your Arms” and off we go with a setlist which draws from her earlier albums but ultimately delivers the entire Chickaboom album released earlier this year, and , because this is an album which derives from her early days of touring with her family, it’s only appropriate that we get a glimpse of her two little boys, not yet asleep, but very much supporting their Big Boss Mama from their gallery seat. And she takes the tone down, as if singing them to sleep, with a heartfelt “Lonely”, which speaks to the downside of touring and being away from home.
But it’s not all Tami and her big band for us tonight, there’s an array of special guests, some predictable, some surprising but welcome surprises. Of course, here comes the travelling salesman Delaney Davidson, long a collaborator in both writing and producing, but also in harmony in the great tradition of discordance. It’s glorious cabaret for “16 Miles of Chain” with Tami having no problem out singing the orchestra, but Delaney, at least initially, a little further back. Delaney on his horse “Running To You” gets back in the saddle and in control.
Tami’s band of three fronting the orchestral background comprises legendary guitarist Brett Adams, with veteran session drummer and Miltone, Tom Broome, and Mark Hughes on bass, and we hear the full array of Brett’s prowess throughout the night, in particular the eerie moan of his slide as he provides haunting reality to Tami’s song in tribute to her maternal grandmother and by association all women who bear the burden of childbirth. "A Woman's Pain"
Troy Kingi appears; this is unexpected, but awesome as he and Tami duet on a waiata, a reworked version of an old song, “Cry Myself to Sleep” and we hear a different side of Troy, in near a cappella, singing beautifully in response to Tami’s magic. Boy, can that man sing. Girl, can that woman sing, but we know that about Tami, it’s just that we normally hear Troy with a big funky band behind, not all spirit and soul as tonight. A magic moment. English and Te Reo Maori. A little dance all tangled up in mic. Only one song?
We haven’t got over that moment, when Nadia Reid appears, and we have another spiritual moment on the three hundred year old hymn “Be Still My Soul” a verse each on their own, and then in glorious harmony with Tami going low, and Nadia soaring high, against an acoustic Brett in accompaniment. “Not too shabby” is Tami’s understated verdict on the voice of Nadia, before they launch into the Everly Brothers sound of Chickaboom’s “Any Fool With A Heart”.
The soundtrack of Tami’s Covid life follows, an emotionally charged big boss band version of father Ron’s final song “Don’t Be Afraid” before Tami abruptly calls a halt and we take a breather. It’s half time and nobody cares that Argentina have triumphed after full time. We’re in a better place.
The show resumes with just the band (and shortly thereafter the backing singers) and Tami wearing her big boss band dress and we’re off in to the rest of Chickaboom, including the winning song in this years anonymous if not abandoned country music awards, “Hey Bus Driver” with Brett lending a hand on vocals. “Queenie Queenie”, which debuted at last year’s country music awards in Gore, has everyone on a little percussion supporting the drums. “Sister Mavis” is a heartfelt tribute to Mavis Staples, and back on comes Delaney for the breathless “Tell Me That You Love Me” which reminds of the tongue twisting “I’ve Been Everywhere” of yesteryear. The band do harmony on the gentle lullaby “Sleep” and Tami exits while Brett boogies, only to re-appear all tasseled with the orchestra for the finale.
A reworked version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’ World” chills the spine with Tami on passion and intensity and power before we are transported back to Las Vegas for an Elvis like big sound “Holy Moses” with just a touch of Aretha.
Thanks all round from Tami especially to promoter Simone Williams who had the audacity to suggest Tami tour with an orchestra, which Mark Dennison stepped up to provide. And a special reference to backing singers Yuli and Nessa, who sang with Tami back in the day on 10pm-2am sessions at Sky City. Imagine how good that must have been!
“You Were Mine” gets a standing ovation from Auckland, and to the echoes of encore, all the nights performers are back on stage for the song which inspired the entire notion of Tami with strings attached, “Big Boss Mama”
Tami Neilsen is now a naturalised national treasure and everybody’s ideal of a big boss mama with a golden voice. Power with a soft touch.
It maybe a far cry from Tami in the church with Delaney, Marlon and Barry all those years ago, but this lady needs to keep moving and growing, and the big band idea has come to ripe fruition in no less than a triumph. The next chapter awaits, as do we in adoring anticipation.
Great sound from Western Audio's Richard McMenamin and Michael “Snapper” Knapp on lights.
- Walk Back to Your Arms
- 16 Miles of Chain (Ft Delaney Davidson)
- Running to You (Ft Delaney Davidson)
- A Woman’s Pain
- Roimata (Cry Myself to Sleep) (Ft. Troy Kingi)
- Be Still My Soul (Ft Nadia Reid)
- Any Fool with A Heart (Ft Nadia Reid)
- Don’t Be Afraid
- Call Your Mama
- Hey Bus Driver
- Ten Tonne Truck
- Queenie Queenie
- Sister Mavis
- Tell Me That You Love Me (Ft Delaney Davidson)
- Get Outta My Business
- It’s a Man’s World
- Holy Moses
- You Were Mine
22. Big Boss Mama
Radio 13 thanks and credits Trevor Villers for all the images in this review.