It felt cozy at the Wine Cellar on Thursday night for the Dan Sperber album release gig. Anticipatory. Dan Sperber doesn’t appear very often, and I still relish the little gem he and Luke Casey released in 1999, The Relaxomatic Project. Tonight, he’s showing off an album which was recorded two years ago, Thinking on Your Feet. But hasn’t yet been offered live, before tonight.
Rodney Fisher is a very familiar face if you remember Goodshirt. He can also be seen at the New Zealand Music Commission doing projects like New Zealand Music Month. But tonight he’s serving up a dish of Mixed Vege, his solo project, which means it’s just him and his imaginary seven piece band. And is EP, which is where the songs come from. And his little drum loop, which is playing up as well as out.
But the songs are catchy, and it’s a nice start. He might not get far with Won’t Get Far especially if the kids are Outta Control in lockdown, just Take, Take, Take, so get on with it, It’s Alright to Fight. And there was a first song, which I didn’t take note of. But yes, a very nice start, because, wait for it……
Caitlin Smith takes the stage, it’s been a hundred years since I saw her live at Iguacu, and more recently DeBretts. My god, she is a great singer. All emotion and song and sass and drama and hairdo as she delivers a short set about love, heartbreak and and companionship. Caitlin plays solo on her keyboard for the first two numbers, 18 Stitches and The Truth About Us. What a joy to hear jazz !
Then Ollie Holland joins on upright bass for the third song For Good and Caitlin’s low bass tones are matched by notes which would shake up the Whammy bar next door even if it were jam packed. Ollie also does a great solo on the next song, a funky soul number called Make Love To It and Cam McCurdy joins for the last number on drums. And also Dan Sperber for an extended, improvised Grand Companion. A little gem of a 5 song set, and it’s over. But we haven’t heard the last from the silky diva…..
Dan Sperber and his band take the stage. We’ve seen Ollie and Cam, but Neil Watson is also here, hidden away to the left on pedal steel. And that’s the dominant sound we first here on Sweet Lightning, before Dan kicks off. And that’s it, it’s Steely and Dan, in this case, but the smooth guitars and the undercurrent jazz in the rhythm section remind me of the great Steely Dan. But that May Not Be Enough because the next song adds a country texture. Country disco jazz, is how Dan describes it, still searching for a plan. Neil provides the country, Dan adds the fluid chops of jazz, but happily there is no disco. The tempo slows for Love is The Light in the Dark and then grows and crescendos and slows. The jazz guitar with the steel wailing behind is seductive and sensuous
And speaking of sensuous, here comes Caitlin again, new outfit but same voice. Dan is a perfectly adequate singer, but when Caitlin comes on she lifts his voice along with hers into the heavens, well maybe just slightly below, knocking on her heaven’s door in discordant harmony, hanging on for dear life to her angel’s wings. It works, it’s magic, who is doing music like this in Auckland? Jazz and soul in the same breath? No one, I might guess, certainly not tonight.
Daniel and Caitlin have known each other since primary school, so there’s a lot of pedigree, and some water if not alcohol under the bridge. And Nothing Hurts Like Heartbreak, a first departure from the album. (in fact only 4 of the ten songs on offer tonight come from the album, a hint of ongoing productivity yet to be shared).
We go darker. Into First the Rain¸ voices running their own track, but together sounding awesome. A touch of Leonard Cohen about Dan? Come on Then, love me if you must, Caitlin soaring high, that’s the way we wrote.
Back to earth, and heading out to Swanson on Double Tracked, Neil Watson now off steel and into electric guitar, channelling Clapton as only he in Auckland can do, in my humble..... I knew that I Knew, even Not So Good is a great song, we are hearing pure Americana, and then Ben McNicholl pops up and extends the song with sax and scat.
It’s over, before good young Cam suggests one last fling with an instrumental done a few years back by the Spammerz, Huia Road.
What a night. Dr Eddie, not known for hyperbole, pronounces it very interesting. That must mean bloody good indeed.
Dan Sperber Band setlist:
- Sweet Lightning
- May Not Be Enough
- Love is the light in the dark
- Nothing Hurts Like Heartbreak
- First the Rain
- Come on Then
- Double Tracked
- Knew That I Knew
- Not So Good
- Huia Road