The Michael Fowler Centre, Mar 13th 2020
Reviewed by: Aimee Smith
It’s impossible not to get excited knowing Aldous Harding is returning to Wellington soil for the New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Homegrown music shines in a night tied together by a rolling tide of vibrato, and the intersection of folkloric fantasies and the late-night ruminations from a house party.
The night is ushered in by New Zealand up-and-comers Purple Pilgrims. The sister act has the task of turning the corporate Michael Fowler centre into the appropriate setting for a night of psychedelic indie folk, and Clementine and Valentine Nixon delve into it with total commitment. Their lush tones and layered electronic tunes create an atmosphere reminiscent of Tolkien’s elvish realms.
Weyes Blood follows, and if Purple Pilgrims took us on a journey to fairyland, our American act plants us on more solid ground. Natalie Mering has the confidence and wry comedic stage presence of a classic crooner with the vocal power to match as she delivers her ‘sad cowboy songs’. Weyes Blood makes the perfect centrepiece for the night, and one we are lucky to be experiencing in the midst of COVID-19 related cancellations.
Rather than transport us to other realms, Aldous Harding feels more like the fae who has travelled here to deign us with a visit. While in reality she is from Lyttelton, her impressive vocal range – which deftly switches from deep resonance to light and husky – implies a creature otherworldly. Combined with an almost clown-like stage presence, the result is intense and captivating.
Nothing bonds an audience and performer quite like the raw, exposed nerve of something going wrong – and tonight, it does. Do we like to see a talented performer being put through their paces, or does empathy make us want to help out in the only way we know how – excessive applause? Either way, those unplanned, off-the-cuff moments created by technical mishaps make room for a one-off magical experience that leaves no one feeling disappointed.