Nadia Reid & The APO – Auckland Town Hall Sept. 9, 2022

Nadia Reid walked onto a grander stage than many of us have been accustomed to seeing her on. And in rather different company.

No more of the usual intimacy of the Wine Cellar or Tuning Fork, solo or with Sam Taylor. This was the Town Hall and a different experience altogether. Like seeing an old friend on stage for a graduation ceremony; in this case graduating into the company of the many-stringed Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra (APO).

 Jenny Mitchell

Jenny MitchellFirst up was Jenny Mitchell, award winning alt-country artist from Gore. Writer of songs with edginess and depth.  A graduation of sorts for her too with the often-solo artist in the company of a full band: violin, bass, drums and sibling vocalists. The resulting layered sound was superb.

Walking out to the sound of waves and birdsong, Jenny was in stark white. A visual complement to the purity of her voice launching into Tug of War, title track of her new album.

Younger still-in-school sisters Maegan and Nicola, the latter playing a miniature guitar, at times looked less than delighted to be on stage. But what voices! Maegan’s soared in a cover of Harper Valley PTA.

Highlights? Many. But Love Isn’t Words stood out for is poignancy and delivery (“My father don’t say much/between the lines there’s only love”) with Jenny’s friend Jessie plucking her violin. And another friend, Tami Neilson’s King of Country Music another highlight with its percussive hand-clapping chant.

To end the set both sisters joined Jenny with the sort of harmonies only siblings can do on her Me Too-inspired Trouble Finds a Girl. This great anthem, with its “burn it down” chant, was reminiscent of the soulful urgings of Mavis Staples.

Opening acts don’t get better than this.

Nadia Reid

Naida ReidA string section of a dozen or so, conductor Leonard Weiss and NZ Trio member Somi Kim on grand piano occupied one side of the stage. On the other, Nadia’s band for the evening: long-time bassist Richie Picard; the superb Joe McCallum on drums; and – surprise of the night – the incomparable Brett Adams on guitar.

Nadia walked out with her introvert’s mix of modesty and slight awkwardness, saying “We finally made it. How good it is to be out of the house”, launching into Heart to Ride. That set the tone. Her crisp delivery roamed through tracks from her three albums.

Call the Days ( “written a very long time ago when in was 20”) was a highlight among many. As was Best Thing with its opening question “Why did you cut down that tree in your front yard?”. The only slightly out-of-context moment was Bridge over Troubled Water. Some songs seem too iconic to cover.

How did this grand space and sonic backdrop suit her searching lyrics in which metaphor meets worldly observations? Did the two halves of the stage connect? Yes, generally. But perhaps what spoke to the limitations of this string-accompanied format was the mid-set bracket which the APO sat out while Nadia delivered powerful songs like Oh Canada and Right on Time, Brett Adams’ guitar filling the venue like a second vocalist.

Nadia’s encore included cover of the night:  Mazzy Star’s Fade into You, which followed her incomparably scathing Richard.

Walking back to the ferry, I recalled a wet Auckland night about eight years ago when an unknown young woman with a guitar appeared at the Tuning Fork as an opening act. The small audience was spellbound.

It’s been quite a journey from playing to a few dozen people there to the Town Hall with the APO. A celebration and graduation. But for old times’ sake, I do hope she still plays small venues from time to time.

Robin Kearns

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karczewski:

Nadia Reid:

Jenny Mitchell: