A tantalising air of mystery surrounded the launch of Lou’ana’s third album Moonlight Madness last night in Auckland. The location of the event was kept secret until the days leading up to the gig. Wafts of incense drew us up the stairs to the Loft of Q Theatre. Lace curtains parted to reveal a fortune teller. We were anointed with essential oils and an excited and rather hip crowd awaited the Wahine of the Moonlight, Lou’ana.
We have all mourned the loss of international artists bringing big shows to these shores. But what a renaissance of interest in Aotearoa artists. And what artists we are lucky enough to enjoy - one week the monumental Tami, another week the searing sweet songs of Nadia Reid and Tiny Ruins. And this week it’s Lou’ana. Holy Smoke what a voice. If ever I wished for a love child of Macy Gray and Amy Winehouse, here she is. From power to pleading, she has the full paintbox of colours at the tips of her very soulful fingertips.
The band on stage shared Lou’ana’s own background in jazz. Mates from the Hipstomatics - Jason Herbert on lead guitar, Dillon Riesterer on keys, and Cam Sangster were joined by the incredible bass of Cameron McArthur, additional groove from Jess Hicks plus a pair of pro-violinists - Nick Jones and Pascal Roggen. It was quite some line-up, a stage literally staggering with musical prowess.
With a smokin’ opening of sultry funk, Lou’ana introduced us to her album with “Wolves” and “Summer in May”. An exquisite “Don’t Let Me Fall” tore open her heart for us, and gave opportunity for a rip-snorting guitar solo from Herbert. The snappy beat of “Eye to Eye” got the crowd going and by “Feel This” with its James Brown vibe, the Loft was rocking.
I’m not convinced that the interlude of burlesque from the beautifully convincing Michelle Kasey was entirely needed. The evening was pretty spiced up already with the lovely Lou not to mention more haze than you can shake a miner’s torch at plus some excellent rock-style lighting. But it provided a break for the dynamic musos to catch breath and come back for more.
I also wonder about the choice of strings in the evening - I thought brass was a soul singer’s best foil? But can’t grumble, Jones and Roggen were amazing as a team and added colour and interest not to mention backing vocals.
Violin hoe-down brought us back into set two (diversity tonight folks) before we were treated to a previously unreleased gem - “Blue”, cant wait to hear more of that song. Then “Love Bind” time-warped us back to the 1960s with shades of Winehouse coming strongly through.
But it was the next song “Day Dreams” that was the absolute knockout of the evening - who can resist a woman who sings AND plays a damned dirty guitar?? Here Lou’ana seemed really to enter the music, body and soul. In a dedication to Jimi Hendrix, it’s evident that the blues genre really drew a deep response from this musician.
In the next song “Silence”, yet another facet of her performance shone. Lou'ana on acoustic guitar and a trio of strings as back-up (wow, that double bass sound from McArthur…). I could have listened to more of this stripped back beauty all night, it’s vulnerability and it’s charm. The fantastic “Move On” got the crowd on the dance floor. Finishing the gig with "Moonlight Madness" was another knockout with Lou’ana’s smoky vocals, an irresistible Samoan drum beat and fantastic drum solo from Sangster.
Lou’ana with her cigarette-soul voice is spellbinding. From her jazz EP of 2019 to this Moonlight Madness, here is a trajectory of retro style and vocal sass. With an encore of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” (damn right you will), Lou’ana and Band gave the crowd a disco end to our night. The band went on to do a second show the same night due to popular demand, such is this singer’s appeal, be sure to check her out.SET LISTWolvesSummer in MayDon't Let Me FallEye to EyeFeel ThisReignBlue (unreleased)Love BindDay DreamsSilenceMove AlongMoonlight Madness.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Ginny C Photography for all images in this article.