Kaylee Bell – Tuning Fork: November 23, 2022

Kaylee Bell demonstrated how entwined Country and Rock’n’Roll is with a show that was lovin’ up a storm! as the late Jerry Lee would have said.

Bell is from Waimate, in the Southern New Zealand heartland. The cradle of Country music and home soil to many Kiwi musicians who go on to bigger success in the field in Australia and America. She did win the NZ Gold Guitar award aged eighteen, before relocating to Australia.

Debut album Heart First was released almost ten years ago. In its wake has come many awards, multi-million streams, and accompanying critical and industry recognition. A big name in Australia. She works with songwriters in Nashville as well.

It seems strange then, that this is her first headline show in her home country. She did open for Brad Paisley recently, at the Spark Arena next door.

There may be an unintentional homage to AC-DC lead guitarist Angus Young. She’s wearing a red blazer and red shorts, a school uniform of sorts. She plays rhythm guitar on electric and acoustic, whilst her band lock it in and play loud, tasty rock’n’roll from start to finish. Disciplined, with the flash kept to a minimum. Aaron Prictor lead guitar, Matthew Warman bass and Corbin Kuhtzee drums.

Be With You (from Silver Linings album) and Getting Closer (Red EP) opens the set. Immediately sets the tone by rocking out on the country. The rhythmic drive commands and there are some nice jangle lead guitar breaks.

Chuck Berry laid out the blueprint for rock’n’roll. His first single Maybelline was an adaptation of Ida Red. Which was a swinging country stomper from the Thirties done by the likes of Roy Acuff. Johnny B Goode was a country boy, after all.

Cassie Henderson

Cassie Henderson does look like a schoolgirl on stage. Armed only with a three-quarter sized acoustic guitar and a lap top.

She was fourteen when she appeared on the first New Zealand X-Factor, in 2014. Which makes her twenty-two now. In that time, she was holed up in a Dunedin house working on her music, in between getting an education.

Domiciled in Auckland now. She has a stage presence that belies her young age. The reason for that is a powerful voice which grows on you as her opening set proceeds.

Opens with her current single Burn Brighter. A confectionery sugar rush of a pop voice with country accents. Thank you for letting me go/ For never letting me try/ I don’t hate/ I’m just grateful.

On the next one the voice is straight out euphoric pop. Her subject matter is on the preoccupations of her peer group. But you hear a lot of wit, and sometimes scathing humour in the way she deals with emotional rollercoasters.

A song called Bitter. She drops the guitar and sings about waking up in the middle of the night/ Sad and lonely/ I’m just bitter. She moves with a practiced ease on stage.

11.59pm is a song she wrote about being stood up on New Year’s Eve. There’s some vitriolic anger there. Has a cute high squeak on the higher register. But then she climbs it again with more muscle and shows off her vocal prowess.

Complacent. Full of sarcastic lyrics about a shitty situation. Bright and bouncy, the accent on the off beat.  It’s great to see young and bold.

Kaylee Bell

One of the highlights of the night was the title track Silver Linings. The band drops back, and she sings this with a piano on a backing track. A ballad, and we get to hear a natural, easy voice which switches up smoothly into the higher tones. Closer to the familiar Nashville country sound.

With acoustic guitar she also does a mash-up of old faves. For her many fans in the audience who participate. A bit of Buses and Trains by Batchelor Girl, Cowboy Take Me Away by the Chicks, So Kiss Me by Natalie Imbruglia and I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys.

Who Am I is one of her best lyrically, about running back to a small town. A special quality to her voice on this one tonight. Must be the occasion.

Small Town Friday then raises the temperature and the band races off like a Tom Petty raver. Nice guitar textures but it’s the bass that leads this all the way. Being a country band, they know how to swing it.

Before I Met You sounds like an americana road song. Country with some whisky shots of R’n’B. The band ride it hard and the drums cut up at the end.

Of course, the closing song is Keith. We went zero to crazy baby on repeat. Her homage to Keith Urban (also from New Zealand), and a huge hit. Given the big treatment and a great finish.

It may also be a nod to the other Keith, the Glimmer Twin. Who is pretty country himself with his bromance with Gram Parsons, and his love of open D tuning.

I’m not sure why it took so long to see a headline show from Kaylee Bell. The small-town girl returns in triumph.

Rev Orange Peel          

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Chris Zwaagdyk: 

Kaylee Bell:   

Cassie Henderson: