Bill Withers Social Club – Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre: April 27, 2024 (Concert Review)

The Bill Withers Social Club met in Auckland last Saturday night with Troy Kingi acting as host, seated front and centre and surrounded by some of New Zealand’s finest as they paid tribute to the man whose songs touched so many lives.

The songs of Bill Withers have stayed with us long after the man has gone. His relatively short career (18 years) yielded hits like Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean On Me, Lovely Day and Use Me. But it was the deep cuts performed by this all-star band that made the night special.

Bill WithersIn addition to Troy Kingi, on stage were Dallas Tamaira of Fat Freddy’s Drop, Rio Hemopo from Trinity Roots and L.A. Mitchell, all of whom took on lead vocal duties throughout the two sets. They were more than ably supported by Ryan Prebble, Daniel Hayles, Iraia Whakamoe and Adan Tijerina, all laying down a groove that must have made Withers, who died in 2020, smile down from on high.

Shortly after 8pm the lights went down and, after a brief Maori greeting we hear the voice of Bill Withers from a vintage clip talking about songwriting…”certain things you don’t try if you don’t think you can do it”…Bill’s voice fades and a guitar strums the opening licks to Harlem, the lead track from 1971’s Just As I Am, and just like that we are transported back to the soul and funk of the 1970s.

Everyone takes a verse but it is Troy who speaks when the song is over. He is humble…thrilled to be singing the songs of “Uncle Bill” but with some attitude…”feel free to sing along”, he tells us, “just be quiet”.

The first set features a surprising number of tunes from Withers’ 1974 album + ‘Justments, surprising to me anyway as I was unfamiliar with man of those song. But tunes like Heartbreak Road, Ruby Lee and Can We Pretend , all performed tonight, proved to be worthy of a tribute some 50 years after they were released.

Bill WithersRuby Lee, in particular, was a standout. Sung by L.A. Mitchell, her powerful voice and her extended note, brought the first of many cheers and ovations.

Mitchell seemed to be the most unlikely of the performers on stage this evening. I would have thought someone like Lou’ana or Deva Mahal would have fit the bill, but Mitichell, who hasn’t been particularly prolific in recent years, won the crowd over.

Rio Hemopo took the lead on Ain’t No Sunshine, mid-set, and the harmonizing from the others brought a new side to the song we’ve all heard so many times.

The set closed with Use Me and Do It Good, leaving us all wanting more.

And set two did just that.

Longer, louder and funkier that the first set, the band really started to sizzle. Another  cut from  +‘Justments,  the single, The Same Love That Made Me Laugh, featured a bass line straight out of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm and a mighty vocal performance from Troy Kingi.

Bill Withers

Troy also got personal, introducing Hope She’ll Be Happier as his favourite Bill Withers song and dedicating it to his dad. There was another massive cheer at the end of that one.

But the temperature just kept rising in the room as Just The Two Of Us, Grandma’ Hands and Lean On Me set the room on fire (figuratively, of course)…not to mention the stingy guitar solo that powered Dallas Tamaira’s version of I Don’t Want You On My Mind.

All-in-all it was a night of highlights and a night full of classic soul songs written by one of the greats and performed as they were meant to be heard.

As Troy said…”It’s about as good as it gets”.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Jeong:


Set 1:

  1. Harlem
  2. Heartbreak Road
  3. Ruby Lee
  4. Lonely Town, Lonely Street
  5. Ain’t No Sunshine
  6. Can We Pretend
  7. Let Me In Your Life
  8. Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?
  9. Use Me
  10. Do It Good

Set 2:

  1. Stories
  2. The Same Love That Made Me Laugh
  3. Sweet Wanomi
  4. Hope She’ll Be Happier
  5. Another Day To Run/Kissing My Love/Green Grass
  6. Just The Two Of Us
  7. I Don’t Want You On My Mind
  8. Grandma’s Hands
  9. Lean On Me
  10. Lovely Day