Phoenix/NZSO: Who’s backing whom?

Marian Poole.
Marian Poole
It is refreshing that the NZSO engages with successful longstanding contemporary New Zealand music. But, to put it more correctly, it is refreshing that contemporary musicians engage with the NZSO, writes Marian Poole.

The Phoenix Foundation is a noteworthy Wellington group of some 20 years standing. The credentials of singer-guitarists Samuel Scott and Luke Buda and guitarist Conrad Wedde, percussionist Will Ricketts, bassist Tom Callwood and drummer Chris O’Connor are well established. Contributions made to their sound by  uncredited arranger/composers Gareth Farr, Claire Cowan, Chris Gendall and Hamish Oliver were not always successful.

A printed programme would have showed the respect the NZSO routinely shows other guest artists and their roadies. The NZSO, under conductor Hamish McKeich, added some interesting textural touches and overall inventiveness to represent the rhythmic interplay, particularly in Cars of Eden but overplayed its backing role in Twilight and Morning Papers.

The Phoenix Foundation was not always at ease with this framing or grandstanding.  Its wry lyrics and unique vocals, astringent guitar work and pointed rhythms were lost at strategic moments.

Overall, however, the performance was exciting, invigorating and musically pleasing. It included a wide sample of Phoenix Foundation’s works including the on-fire energy of Buffalo, which had the dancers on their feet, the rousing anthem to youth Give Up Your Dreams, and a winning rendition of Bright Grey.

Lyrics of the beautifully domestic Transit of Venus, and the sly observations of Black Mould with its infectious soaring melody deserved to be heard better.

Although not large in number, the enthusiastic audience in the Regent Theatre gave  both the Phoenix Foundation and the NZSO a standing ovation with stamping and whistles and shouts after two encores. However, rather than inviting the NZSO audience to hear Phoenix, Phoenix fans were introduced to a new backing group, the NZSO.


NZSO & Phoenix Foundation

• Regent Theatre Friday, August 31

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