Allen Stone – Aotea Centre: November 11, 2022

Allen Stone brought his soulful and jam-packed New Normal tour to a sold-out night at the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea centre in Tāmaki Makaurau.

A packed and super supportive crowd clapped, harmonised and sang along to nearly every tune last night, including Louis Baker’s opening set. It’s a great time to be making soul and R&B music in Aotearoa.

Louis Baker

Speaking of R&B in Aotearoa, I feel like the crowd that loves R&B and soul is like a sleeping dragon that’s slowly waking up. The love that the audience has for soulful music is a vocal one. All throughout the night I hear respectful calls of support all around me, especially for the support acts. These people are truly rooting for kiwi soul to come to the mainstream foreground. The first time that respectful cheering becomes more of an uproar of enthusiasm is when Louis Baker finishes his last song of the night in Te Reo. The majority of the audience tonight has pacific roots, and there is a common feeling of respect, appreciation and aroha for the use of Aotearoa’s native tongue; more about that later.
Allen Stone

Rather than beers or a whole bottle of whiskey, the stage crew carries 2 cups of tea (likely with some nice Manuka honey) onto the stage before Allen Stone and his band walk onto the stage. The 5 incredibly talented and well-rehearsed musicians take a good moment to simmer in the crowd’s love before kicking the set off with miscommunicate.

The keyboard corner is the first thing I notice about tonight’s set up. The touring party is bringing along a full-sized Hammond organ, a Fender Wurlitzer, and a Nord Stage 3 (a keyboard which is very capable of copying the organ and Wurlitzer in my opinion). Still, it’s always fun to see a bit of a ridiculous set up with different keyboards, sometimes even played at the same time by the amazing Swatkins. I vaguely seemed to remember Swatkins from other musical projects like Scary Pockets and it didn’t click for me until he whips out his famous Talkbox sound during What Kind of Voodoo Do You Do? 

I notice Allen has a Toki Pounamu around his neck. They are typically given to symbolise dedication, bravery, and success and it compliments, acknowledges and praises Allen Stone’s lyrics hitting hard where they should, calling out injustice in songs like American Privilege and

I [Allen] got quite emotional during a meet-n-greet before the show where some of you guys [the fans sitting in the front row] gifted me this greenstone.

The fans even taught him how to say thank you as Allen says “Kia ora” with his beautiful American twang.

The band is incredibly well rehearsed and it shows because every member is relaxed enough to banter across the stage and even join Allen in some simple but effective choreography during Chippin’ Away. It also pays off when guitarist Tristan Hart Pierce rips some fantastically thoughtful, luscious and sparse solos over Upside Down and fan favourite Consider Me that left me inspired and motivated to pick up the guitar a bit more often myself.

Halfway through the set, Allen Stone thanks the band as they leave the stage and leave Allen to play a few tunes alone on his acoustic guitar. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s A Place in the Sun subtly turns into Bed I Made, another of his hits.

“Now, I know exactly where I am, and I know that 95% of you can sing twice as good as I can.”

Allen effortlessly gets the entire theatre to sing along to some of his intimate songs like Bed I Made, Give You Blue and Unaware while Allen sings luscious vibrato notes, vocal runs, and even some scatting in between lyrics. Later on, Allen curates the audience to sing and even dance specific moves with him during his brand new single 5 minutes, a song that runs for at least 10 minutes of crowd participation.

A special mention needs to go to drummer Curtis Kelly, leading the band, hitting hard when needed and quietly when necessary, all while harmonising beautifully along with Swatkins and Allan Stone. I’ll say it again, this band is a supergroup of talented and hard-working musicians of the highest quality and it pays off.

Naturally, the band left the stage only to come back on for a satisfying encore. Allen Stone, to the clear  even invites Louis Baker back on stage, naming him his “favourite singer of all-time” as they perform Naturally. The band finishes the night off without Louis and covers Bob Marley’s undeniable anthem Is This Love, a favourite for so many Reggae and R&B fans in Aotearoa.

I’ve been to a lot of shows this year, which feels amazing to say in a post covid state of the world, and this show tops all of them. The entire night was a down-to-earth, intimate yet exuberant evening where the few yet many of us received a peak of the real Allen Stone. The quirks, the sass, the good and the better, and the incredible level of musicianship that crossed the stage last night; From the start, right to the last bow, Allen Stone, his band and Louis Baker delivered a perfect evening, The audience gladly received it and reciprocated it in full.

Koen Aldershof 

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Allen Stone:

Louis Baker: