Hollie Smith, The Tuning Fork, 30 May 2020: Concert Review

First off, hats off the Tuning Fork crew. One of the greatest little venues in Auckland town opened its limited capacity, Covid-combatting doors to punters for its first post-lockdown music gig last Saturday night – the inimitable Hollie Smith performing in an intimate cabaret-style seated affair. More on that in a moment …

We 85 or so punters arrived to a roped-off area leading up to the front doors, running the gauntlet of numerous masked staff at tables, each of us having to scan contact tracing apps and/or fill out and sign a Covid tracing register, then moving up the row to show tickets, before being shown to the door ..where even more staff were waiting to welcome and personally escort people to their reserved table or leaners. You sat with the people you bought tickets with.  Personal service to keep us all safe in these strange times.

Everybody seated, table service only, every ‘bubble’ of guests had a bottle of chilled water and glasses, information flyers about Covid-19, and menus for drinks and bar snacks. Except nobody was going to the bar. It was off-limits to all but staff.

Drinks orders were placed online/on smartphones through a special app, paid for the same way, and then your server arrived swiftly with your order.

Civilized? Yes.

Strange? Definitely.

Necessary? Absolutely, under the Covid-restrictions prep and planning the Tuning Fork/Live Nation crew were operating under when looking at reopening the place.

Over-the-top? Maybe. But a successful exercise given the weird but necessary protocols bars are/were forced to comply with at the time.

Even going to the bathroom was different. Due to social distancing requirements, the Tuning Fork toilets were shut. You were directed to the back of the venue to the bigger blocks of amenities in the ground floor foyer of the arena. Where yet another staff member with gloves and a spray-bottle of disinfectant was standing readily by to wipe down door handles and whatever else once you’d exited.

To all crew on deck that evening, thanks for your professionalism and care. A weird experience on both sides but we appreciated all your efforts to keep all of us safe.

It was a quieter, somewhat subdued evening due to the way things were, but the thrill and pleasure of being out and about again, at a venue, about to see a live show, was palpable even before the lights dimmed.

Katikati singer-songwriter Sophie Gibson warmed up the audience with her guitar and a short but sweet set of originals, smooth vocals and some wry, amusing lyrics from the youngster.

Hollie Smith, fabulous creature that she is, made a lowkey entrance, performing mostly seated at a piano, remarking what a pleasure it was to be playing in front of people again, rather than the dislocating experience of livestreaming. She embarked on a quietly stunning, intimate showcase of new songs.  ‘Coming In From The Dark’ and ‘Tell Me’  a haunting and powerful start to the set. Hollie’s range has always been incredible and even in the subdued surrounds, it was a memorable evening.

Some heavy issues were addressed in these new songs and her between-song banter – Trump, America’s current civil rights unrest, immigration, the Syrian refugee crisis. On Covid-19, Hollie praised our country’s leadership and the collective effort of its people, which had averted what could’ve been “a catastrophe”. Giving thanks for where we are at now healthwise, observing that “things could’ve been a fuckload worse.”

‘Billy’ was about losing a friend to cancer, who had previously lost his son. A tender, restrained, folky number, with Hollie picking up her guitar for the first time that evening with the beautifully sad refrain “does it feel like home, now that you’ve arrived.”

One definitely from the heart.

‘Collateral’ was followed up with a bit of a moan about not being able to sell merchandise at the gig because of the current restrictions ..and an appeal to fans to dig deep online if they possibly could. As she pointed out more than once during the evening, on behalf of all musicians, ‘we’re all hurting’.

The themes of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter rose again in a song punctuated by doom-laden piano …one which had a touch of Stevie Wonder about it, in which Hollie’s vocal gymnastics let rip at last, and she told us how she wrote this one a while back but “two days ago it found its direction” with the killing of unarmed African-American George Floyd.

‘Beside Me’ was a lament to a love or lover lost, Hollie hitting the high notes back on guitar.

Finishing the rest of the set behind the piano, she stumbled slightly through a beautiful Te Reo version of the chart-topping ‘Bathe In The River’ –  only the fourth time she’s ever played it with the Maori vocals, she confided.

She introduced some numbers as being ‘the bones of songs which will change going through the process of recording’. It felt special and the atmosphere was one of gratitude. That she could be playing live again. That we could be there, in person to enjoy. And we did.

Help us out, Hollie implored again towards the end of the set …. ‘we appreciate your support. Stay connected with the scene. Stay vigilant. Stay safe’.

The next Tuning Fork ‘Together Again’ music gig will be Finn Andrews, on Saturday 13th June.