Lawrence Arabia – Titirangi RSA November 7, 2017

Lawrence Arabia’s string of solo shows around the North Island this November were announced with a lengthy and eccentric press release from the artist personally, imploring the public to come along because “a performance without an audience is merely a rehearsal. And rehearsals, as fun as they are, do not pay money”. He further assured us that as far as monetary transactions go, “this should, at least in theory, be one of the more satisfying”.

Certainly, in theory, seeing Lawrence Arabia a.k.a. James Milne perform from his back catalogue of “21st Century bourgeois dilemmas” in such intimate venues for the price of $20 sounds satisfying enough without his cajoling or promises of “a communal experience of joy so rare in this decadent age of digital insularity”. Well the opening show of the tour at the humble Titirangi RSA didn’t quite match that lofty claim, but it was certainly charming and enjoyable on a more modest level.

Despite his dialogue on rehearsals and performances, the Tuesday night performance did have an air of rehearsal about it, in that it allowed the audience a view into the bare-bones construction of Milne’s live music, mistakes and all. After successfully encouraging a hesitant (or just bar-focused) audience to the front of the small wooden room, he opened with Brain Gym from last year’s Absolute Truth, playing a clean electric guitar over an electronic drum loop. From there on in, he juggled multiple guitars, keyboards, shakers, and at one point a kazoo, through a loop pedal and over drum machines and click tracks.

However, the more prevalent the reliance on technology was in any one song, the more uncertain it sounded. He acknowledged this to the audience, reminding us humorously that it was the first night of the tour and “technology is not my friend”. The Pool was restarted due to an out-of-time attempt at a shaker loop, while the similar shaker playing that kicked off The Beautiful Young Crew, a highlight of 2009’s superb Chant Darling, was clearly too fast for the performer’s liking, detracting a little from the song itself.

Though I admired the idea behind the one-man band approach, the best moments of the set were when the focus shifted from his slightly nervous and uneasy button-pushing to the composition of his songs themselves (though his split-hand keyboard and glockenspiel playing on the Spanish-language Sweet Dissatisfaction was impressive if nothing else). The ghostly Bicycle Riding, delivered plaintively on his smooth Rhodes keyboard, was an early highlight. Look Like A Fool, Talk About Good Times and I’ve Smoked Too Much, three of his greatest compositions, were thankfully delivered on just his acoustic guitar, and shone. The best use of electronic technology was as additional sonic decoration, such as the golden vocal harmony loops of The Undesirables and The Mystery Lair.

Despite these successes, Milne seemed constantly jittery on stage. This probably wasn’t helped by the room’s incessant talking, an irritating and unfortunate occurrence for any performer. Sensing the need for some connection early on he declared “I’m gonna do a little setlist shifting around, because I feel like the flow needs this”, before getting the audience to provide a “chh hha” vocal rhythm for Sweet Ingredients, a song from his group project The Reduction Agents. Later he reached out by warning “I’m gonna play the song that you’re all waiting for, but I’m not gonna play it in a way that will satisfy you”, before delivering a keyboard-oriented version of Apple Pie Bed that sounded like a salsa-influenced Casio keyboard preset piece (“Thank you and sorry”).

The night ended after an hour and a half with a wonderfully mournful cover of The Velvet Underground classic Femme Fatale. It left me thinking how much more I might have enjoyed a set that was, if possible, even more stripped down, with just Lawrence Arabia and his guitar. But despite that, the night won over on charm and intimacy, and the natural opening-night wrestling with a new technological approach only served to break down the barrier between performer and audience and draw me further into the well-written songs themselves. By the time his musical delivery is running more smoothly, this should be a tour to catch.

Ruben Mita

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Setlist –

Brain Gym

Bicycle Riding

The Listening Times

The Undesirables

O Heathcote

Sweet Ingredients (The Reduction Agents’ song)

I Waste My Time

Sweet Dissatisfaction

The Mystery Lair

Travelling Shoes

Look Like A Fool

Talk About Good Times

The Pool (The Reduction Agents’ song)

80’s Celebration (The Reduction Agents’ song)

I’ve Smoked Too Much

Apple Pie Bed

The Beautiful Young Crew

You Won’t Remember This Feeling At All (Fabulous/Arabia song)


encore –


Urban Yard (The Reduction Agents’ song)

Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)