Aldous Harding – Pah Homestead July 1, 2017


Rather than celebrate a triumphant homecoming at a large venue such as The Powerstation or The Civic, Aldous Harding chose to play three nights at the very intimate Pah Homestead. For anyone who has followed Harding’s career, the decision seems par for the course… ‘expect the unexpected’ could easily be her motto.

Of course Harding’s instincts were spot on. She sold out all three nights at the historic house easily, treating her fans to a close-up experience that would stay with them for some time.

In between her previous Auckland show in February and this series, a lot has happened in Aldous’ world. She’s released her second album, Party, to rapturous reviews, she’s appeared on Later…With Jools, and received attention from The Guardian, NPR and The New York Times. Plus, she’s been on the road playing dates across Europe and the US.

If all this has changed Aldous Harding, it wasn’t evident last night.

This show was the final of a three-day run, with Harding being visited by old friends Nadia Reid and Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), the previous evening. Tonight it would just be Harding and her band. But that still provided plenty of surprises.

The first was the venue. The building itself is huge, but the room the performance was to take place in was cosy, to say the least, perhaps accommodating about a hundred people. There were no chairs and there was no distance between the stage and the crowd.

After milling about in a reception area offering drinks and nibbles, the audience was let into the performance space just after 8pm. The crowd seemed to be an even mix of older and younger, male and female. We all stood around chatting for about a half an hour until the opening act appeared.

This was the next surprise.

Instead of a musical act, two young women dressed in what first appeared to be rain gear (it was pouring outside), made their way to the stage, climbed up and proceeded to dance, or at least move in unison to piped in music accompanied by a vocal reciting what may have been poetry.

It all seemed very David Lynchian, especially when the two performers ventured back into the crowd confronting the audience members while continuing to “dance”.

It was clear that there was going to be more art on display tonight than just the James Wallace Collection that is housed at the Pah Homestead.

The opening performance lasted approximately 10 minutes and then we were left to talk among ourselves once more.

The stage was cleared…the dancers left most of their clothing behind…and the microphones and chairs were set in place.

For those who caught Aldous’ February performance at the Hollywood Cinema, things may have seemed familiar. Harding appeared on her own at first, dressed in white, and sitting on a chair with her guitar.

The crowd immediately went silent.

“Thanks for coming”, said Aldous, breaking the tension, “its nice to be home”.

She then began the show with Swell Does The Skull and The World Is Looking For You, two of the more “traditional” tunes from Party. It felt as though she was acting as her own warm-up act, preparing the crowd for her more adventurous musical forays.

She then invited her band to join her…keyboard player Jonathan Pearce, drummer Tristan Deck and Callum Passells who played bass clarinet, sax and bass and electric guitar. These are the same musicians who accompanied Harding in February.

The tension that appeared at the beginning of the set, reappeared throughout the show. In fact a certain sense of social awkwardness, nervousness and anxiety seems to be an integral part of an Aldous Harding show.

The other element is Harding’s facial expressions as she sings. She grimaces, sneers, stares, twitches with eyes rolling back in her head or boring a hole straight through you.

Watching her is a totally unique experience, one that can make audience members uncomfortable or completely enthralled. There were reports of some folks overseas experiencing emotional breakdowns during her shows with reviewers using terms like “grotesque” and “alienating” to describe what they saw and heard.

Tonight Harding admitted to a touch of nerves, blaming it perhaps on performing to a hometown crowd (her family was in the audience).

Musically, the show was exceptional. Harding uses her band as if it were one instrument, allowing them to colour her songs and, where appropriate, take them to another level.

This happened at least twice.

The closing moments of What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming found Harding voice locking in with Passells’ sax and sending the song soaring to a thrilling climax.

A similar thing happened at the end of Horizon, leaving myself, and I’m sure many others, literally breathless.

Throughout the show Harding spoke to the audience, explaining that Paul McCartney’s Single Pigeon was her “favourite song ever” and noting that shooting the video for Blend was “a weird day”.

She also previewed to new songs. Weight Of The Planets has been around for a while, but Pilot was introduced as “the latest song I’ve written”.

Judging by what I saw and heard tonight, I would venture to guess that Aldous seems to be moving further away from the tradition folk she started with and toward, what I would consider jazz…both in terms of her vocal approach and instrumentation.

Of course, anything can happen between now and the recording of her next album. I will continue to expect the unexpected.

Marty Duda

Aldous Harding set list:

  1. Swell Does The Skull
  2. The World Is Looking For You
  3. I’m Sorry
  4. Elation
  5. Blend
  6. Weight Of The Planets
  7. Party
  8. Imagining My Man
  9. Single Pigeon
  10. Living The Classics
  11. What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming
  12. Pilot
  13. Horizon