Concert Review: Tami Neilson & Dave Khan – Freida Margolis, 24 June 2020

On a wet, wild, Wednesday evening, where better to be than in the cosy confines of the Freida Margolis corner bar in Grey Lynn, gathered around for a double helping of two of Auckland’s finest – Dave Khan and Tami Neilson? What a treat!

She really needs no introduction  – a powerhouse performer with pipes to match, here tonight beautiful as ever in full Tami glam, celebrating being out of lockdown, back before an actual audience, and winner last month in APRA’s NZ Country Music Awards for Best Song (‘Hey Bus Driver’ off her new LP, ‘Chickaboom!’)

He’s an insanely talented multi-instrumentalist, perhaps best known for his understated but starring roles as guitarist/keys/banjo/fiddle/backing vocals in other people’s bands, including Tami’s in years gone by.

After a warm welcome from Freida’s proprietor Mike, Dave with trusty guitar quietly kicks off proceedings on his own, centre stage (well, tucked in by the piano in the corner).

It’s a short and lovely set of covers, mining traditional bluegrass and early country.  Mostly lovelorn  songs, about women and gamblers, hobos and hurtin’ … including old-time fiddle tune ‘More Pretty Girls Than One’, ‘The Hobo Song’, ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’.

Greatly simple, simply great songs with decades of mileage, but as moving and meaningful as ever. Rare to hear Dave sing upfront/solo on the gigging circuit though he did a similar warm-up/support act for Reb Fountain recently. Throwing in a toe-tapping hoe-down instrumental on banjo again to lift the spirits, and sing-along fave ‘The Gambler’, he was done.

A round of drinks later, they were both back – Tami resplendent in her royal blue ‘Hot Damn’ dress, all spangles and sparkles and rockabilly ponytail, ready to let rip.

Three and a half months since her last proper gig, she tells us, strapping on her guitar despite having a sprained hand.

Nothing wrong with that voice though, husky and honeyed vocals, belting it out when necessary, her set punctuated by good banter and throaty laughter. This woman was born to perform and don’t she/we know it.

She launched into it with “Walk” – the first single off her 2014 album “Dynamite!”, then ‘Hey Bus Driver’, her ode to life on the road, counting the days to getting home.  ‘Ten Tonne Truck’ follows, another off the latest album.

Tami and Dave go way back. She recalls he was one of the first musicians she met here in New Zealand , at the old 121 Café up the road in Ponsonby . Old mates. They last worked together five or six years ago. But then, Tami jokes affectionately “ he met someone younger and prettier .. that little bitch is Marlon Williams.’ Cue laughter, on stage and off.

Tami has a tilt at Donald Trump  with her next song ‘Kitty Cat’, alluding to his ‘grabbing a woman where you shouldn’t’ scandal. She introduces it as a little song about asking permission. Then a song devoted to her mother and two grandmothers.  ‘This Old World Turns On A Woman’s Pain”, a testament she says to the incredible resilience and strength that lies in every woman.

Tami has always been so much more than a country singer, with strong undertows of soul and gospel and in the next number she evokes Dusty Springfield, with Dave on a mournful fiddle.

A change of gear for ‘Tell Me That You Love Me’, written with Lyttleton troubadour Delaney Davidson, a double-time ditty she says leaves ‘barely time to breathe, so if we go down, we go down together’. They make it through, with appreciative ‘yee haws’ from the audience. Dave ably taking on the call and answer duties – vocals on the album by Tami’s brother Jay.

She is traversing all her albums tonight, as well as  showcasing the newest offerings.

We get “Cry Over You’, with its touch of surf guitar. ‘Texas’, which she describes as a love song to her two boys, this one featuring Dave plucking at his fiddle. There are duelling guitars at times, but I gotta say I like it when Tami is unencumbered by a musical instrument, when she’s free to use her whole body to ‘sing’ her songs,  moving all she got to the music, expressive arms even, right down to her fingertips.

She’s a delight to watch with her ever-changing personae depending on the mood of the song, her killer smile… and always lit up with the love of it, of performance… giving it 100% no matter the size of the audience.  Astonishingly, this day she was up at 5am doing a livestream performance to the States. Still looking and sounding a million bucks more than 15 hours later in Grey Lynn.

With apologies to the legendary James Brown for her ‘amendments’ to his song, she wheels out her cover of ‘It’s A Man’s World’ … going a little darker here, and full-force as she belts out ‘Woman wrote the code took a man to the moon …it was a woman made a little thing called computer software too … it was a woman discovered stem cell insulation… and here in New Zealand we got a prime minister who had a baby while running the whole damn nation”. You can tell this one matters to her. A lot.

‘Holy Moses’ fires us up further with swampy guitar, bringing out the hand-claps and finger-snaps. ‘No Good For My Soul” has Dave on fiddle again, and a couple up dancing in the aisles (well …on the footpath outside) …another belter showcasing Tami’s impressive power and range.

More tight duelling guitars follow in ‘Come Over’.

The Beatlesque ‘Any Fool With A Heart’ has gorgeous harmonies.

Tami digs deep with the intensely personal and edgy ‘You Were Mine’, before sending us on our way with sublime lullaby ‘Sleep’.

Dave and Tami  hug. Everybody’s happy.  A cracker of a night. Chickaboom! indeed.

~Karen McCarthy