Finn Andrews – Leigh Sawmill June 17, 2017

Stephen Allely travels north to catch The Veils‘ frontman’s solo set…

Arriving after a hike at Goat Island and watching the sunset over the exquisite Hauraki Gulf at 6.30, we had plenty of time to soak up the ambience of the charming venue at the sawmill prior to the music starting a few hours later.  And a brilliant pizza and pilsner too. 

The first act – Pablo Vasquez  (Jol Mulholland and Elroy Finn) – was an acoustic duo playing self proclaimed “instrumental guitar music” on classical guitars.  They were nuanced, powerful, and melodically captivating – thanking the crowd for their silent attention a few songs in.

The pair played off each other beautifully, sometimes playing with counterpoint melodies, sometimes echoing each other note for note and allowing the differing timbre of the two instruments to enrich the tone of the same melody played simultaneously, other times one taking the rhythm duties while the other played a solo – this being used to great effect in the last tune where they duelled it out taking turns to solo in a calypso style I have never heard played so well here in NZ.  Anything Mulholland touches turns to gold in my opinion, and this project is no exception.

They opened and closed their set with a cover, and their dry sense of humour was reminiscent of the Flight Of The Concords stage act in many ways.  I hope it does not offend them to say this but I could not help but notice the parallel with excellent musicianship combined with a droll humility.

I have never heard acoustic instrumental guitar music played so beautifully.

The Veils have been a NZ music export for some time now, as they relocated to the UK some years ago.  The last few years I have enjoyed  a copy of Time Stays, We Go from 2013 on vinyl – the progressive and jagged songs full of an intensity and a staccato rhythmic drive that is compelling and evocative in the way despair and hope can mix like darkness and diamonds, when songs reach that bitter-sweet balance bands like Coldplay had in their early stage before the decline.

Finn Andrew’s stage presence was also not unlike Chris Martin’s, jovial yet dry and understated yet warm with an infectious schoolboyesque enthusiasm.

So the prospect of seeing the front-man and songwriter Finn Andrews solo acoustic was exciting, having not seen the band live for many years.  He showed a powerful stage presence from the opening bars, holding the full yet intimate size crowd in the palm of his hand.

The opening song had echoes of Damien Rice, with the plaintive vocal harmonies of Reb Fountain exquisitely sitting delicately over his strong baritone voice.  The guitar parts – here and onwards throughout the show – were spare yet touching, with rhythm being a strong point of Andrews’ guitar work.  He created a driving scratchy rhythm, exhibiting metronomic timing without a drummer.  As he alternated between piano and guitar, he presented an impressive repertoire from The Veils’ work, the piano pieces particularly touching and beautifully presented.  I would say Neil Young solo shows in the early 70s were probably the closest aesthetically to this uniquely tasteful combination of acoustic guitar and piano presentation.

Songs of redemption, hope, loss and love painted by poetic lyrics and strong yet simple melodies piled forth one after the other, with it hard to pick highlights as it was all so damn great.  Valleys of New Orleans was my personal favourite, but music is a subjective trip – every punter would have walked away with a different highlight, as the songs were all strong and there was no filler.

Stylistically and musically I felt at times that James Blunt was a fair comparison, but I would go as to far as to say that Andrews is more talented than that lauded tunesmith.  Long may he play and tour.  A jewel in NZ music’s crown.

Stephen Allely

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