Concert review: Princess Chelsea, Tuning Fork, 3 December 2020

Chelsea Nikkel looks radiant and triumphant on stage tonight at the Tuning Fork. An array of instruments festooned with Christmas lights.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream Fairy People dancing on the screen behind. Dream Pop as we take the trip upon the magic swirling ship and dance beneath the diamond sky.

The evening has a retro feel with support acts adding to the Dream. As the Year of Fear approaches its conclusion and salvation is being promised on the end of a needle, it is wonderful to have Artists who can weave some cleansing magic.

Stef Animal
Stef Animal

To set the stage for tonight’s show is Stef Animal. A musician for twenty years at least. Involved in alternative Pop bands in both Dunedin and Wellington. Currently a solo artist and released an album in 2018, Top Gear. The idea was to use favourite, iconic or collector item synth gadgets from the Seventies and Eighties and build music vignettes around each one.

Electronic duck calls to start. The next one features the signature guitar sound of the Roland U20. Instantly recognisable, sort of like an electrified accordion.

Minimalist like Brian Eno’s ambient sounds. Or the moody downbeat textures of Radiohead.

As she progresses, there is a lot of the Joe Meek use of experimentation and texture to achieve the Space Age sound in the early Sixties. Which reached its commercial peak with Telstar.

New songs get more expansive and cinematic. Eno type oddity blended with Morricone Latin tones. Or a Dario Argento movie. Trance music which becomes meditative and relaxing. In short segments.

And then it all melts away and the knees buckle as the knockout punch is delivered. Didn’t see it coming as a hit like that always is. Be My Baby. The eternal classic from Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector. Electronic, orchestral and perfectly understated.

Stef looks a bit like Moe Tucker. Check out her version of Then He Kissed Me.

Crap Date
Crap Date

Crap Date are second curtain-raiser and are on stage with an array of synthesisers. Lead singer Jamie-Lee Smith has previously played with Princess Chelsea. And is a best friend.

With a syn-guitar, syn-drums and not an analogue in sight, we are back to the Eighties sound of Electronica Pop. Maybe you can call it Dream Pop if you’re younger than me. Myself I am younger than yesterday and the deep roots of this music goes back to Folk Rock mating with Spector who then mated with Dylan and look at those babies now.

Ephemera is a blueprint for this sound. Shiny and glossy with a four-four beat.

Next one was inspired by The Young and the Restless. Dreamy dance trance mood music with some grand churchy bursts.

Speed Date. There are some similarities to the early rehearsal tapes of Suicide. Regard them as the twisted Godmothers to the vocalist and electronica duo. Rock’n’Roll stripped back to the least essentials you need to be a band. Currently leading the pack, Sleaford Mods.

There is a bit of anger and girls–together fellowship coming from Jamie-Lee tonight. Maybe spirit-fuelled. Their penultimate song could be called Crushing Penises. A sword-and-sandal epic black and white movie plays in the background. The singer lets go with sustained high-note vocals and goes full Kate Bush. A big sound which wells up and over like a massive desert storm.

Princess Chelsea

Well primed for Princess Chelsea. The sound is beefed up and the engine given a Tesla makeover. The two acts before set us up for the where it is coming from. Now we experience the glorious present and where we are heading.

Electronic Indie-Pop but expansive and presented in a well-drilled and well-rehearsed show for music which is quite complex. They can expand on what is produced in a studio live on stage and keep it tight.

A lot of this comes from the energy and persona of Chelsea. She starts at the side of the stage behind a keyboard with Machines of Loving Grace. Slow and dreamy.

Then it’s out front and centre. Glide dancing. Edge of the stage at times as if she may step off. Spraying her water bottle out. Gladdens my heart, better than a vaccine.

Pretty Ones starts with a slow beat and sort of creeps along. Nice Surf Guitar. It’s an age-old situation/ The consequence of the selfish gene/ in pursuit of that perfection. She’s trying to out-do Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man. Builds to a maelstrom.

Wasting Time leads with the bass guitar and has lush orchestral tones. At this point I realise the brilliant sound the crew have achieved tonight. They can handle volume. You can hear all the elements.

Like on Monkey Eats Bananas. Two syn-xylophones. The drums lead off on a song which is basically a rhythm riff.

Yulia has a Jazz keyboard intro which sounds like Brubeck.  Slow and measured with breaks of vocal intensity.

The audience are generally appreciative and attentive all the way through. Later I notice a lot of musician peers like the Beths, Brunettes and some Miltones.

Cigarette Duet the big hit is a nice bouncy Pop tune with ringing guitars and some chimes. Sort of nods back to the Girl Groups of Goldstar Studios.

I Miss My Man gets a big cheer. A great dreamy ballad with some nice twanging guitar flourishes. Inspired by Lindsay Buckingham? Maybe it’s the bit where she sings, I don’t need another man to tell me what to do.

Chelsea has described the show as a Greatest Hits set and it is right down to the shoes.

All I Need to Do finishes with maximum energy. Synthesizer Pop which bounces along. Playful singing. Some Suicide Doo-Wop flourishes and then the guitarist shreds it.

It’s been a great trip through time and space tonight from quirky opening to a blasting finish. To the Heartland, catch it while you can as they head on down.

Rev Orange Peel

Click on any icon to see a full size gallery of photos shot by Marty Duda

Princess Chelsea

Stef Animal & Crap Date