Steve Gunn – Tuning Fork: October 20, 2022

Steve Gunn is in town and we found him at The Tuning Fork last night. Here’s The 13th Floor’s Robin Kearns with his report.

You know a masterful musician is about to take the stage when you see NZ’s finest guitarist standing near the front. And what astonishingly richly textured and transcendent playing we were treated to on this, Steve Gunn’s fourth visit to Auckland.

Louisa Nicklin

First on stage was Louisa Nicklin whose opening lines “I’m sorry to leave you on your own” spoke to the raw beauty of her songs. Dressed in stark black and white, she traversed vocal contours with ease, her voice full and warm, at times suggesting octave-varying delivery of Missy Higgins. Her guitar is almost a second voice, offering discordant sounds to mimic the emotive content of such lyrics as “every time I leave your side”.

Eyes to the floor (shy? concentrating?) her song-packed set ends as it started: edgy-folk flavoured songs with chords that take aim at the heart: “Outside was cold/and so was I/ I needed something to change”.

We need to hear more from Louisa. Glad she’s a local, so the chances are good.

 Steve Gunn

Steve GunnA recent headline about Steve Gunn in The Guardian quoted him as saying “I just wanna be this guy with my guitar, travelling around”. Sure enough, he was faithful to that no-bullshit troubadour disposition last night. He just strolled on stage in denim shirt, chatting to those of us near the front as he set up his cords and kit for the night. And it was sparse. No merch desk, no band, just one man and an acoustic guitar.

From Wildwood, the opener, the audience kept reverential attention, something he offered gratitude for as the set progressed. And what sounds he coaxed from that one guitar, aided by looping in sounds and backing himself.

By the time he played his second song, Fulton, his soft, high-pitched almost-spoken vocals flowing with a swirling flow of sounds, my eyes were transfixed on the fret. How someone can carry such complex melodies and basslines at once is astonishing and the result is pure art. I swear I heard an accordion in there at one point!

A guitar player would have more to say about his virtuosity but, for this amateur, the only times I have been as transfixed have been watching Bruce Cockburn and Richard Thompson. But this was next level subtlety and soundscape creation.  The hush endured even as he re-tuned between songs.

Gunn interrupted his start to Morning River, off his 2021 Other You release, saying ‘I don’t usually talk much but must give you some context’. It was a song written for a friend who disappeared and died. He had busked in the New York subway and, curiously, loved fly fishing (“which is kind of hard to do there”). The wistfulness of that song was echoed in his later cover of Yorkshireman Michael Chapman’s Among the Trees, another close and recently departed friend of Gunn’s.

This was a performance to be savoured: a modest genius and his guitar offering sweeping vistas of sonic beauty.   Despite themes of loss there is a paradoxical lightness and accessible complexity to Gunn’s his songs.

If we’re open to it, his music takes us places and when we return, where we are is all the more beautiful for the journey.

Robin Kearns

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:

Louisa Nicklin setlist

  1. On your own
  2. Water around
  3. There will be
  4. The highs/ All I know
  5. To be fine
  6. Can’t see No good
  7. Morning slow

Steve Gunn setlist

  1. Wildwood
  2. Fulton
  3. Morning River
  4. On the way
  5. Among the Trees (Michael Chapman cover)
  6. Way out weather
  7. New moon
  8. New Familiar
  9. Morning is Mended
  10. Water wheel