Tami Neilson Songbook – Aotea Centre: July 30, 2022

Tami Neilson played Kingmaker last night with the APO and all I can say is, “wow!” Fortunately Tami herself had plenty to say as she and her band and the APO put on what could very well be the concert of the year.

Despite of, or maybe because of, the Pandemic, there has been a lot of excellent music being produced and released over the past year and Tami’s new album, Kingmaker is very close to the top of the heap.

Tami’s songwriting, singing and storytelling has always been impressive, but Kingmaker takes Tami to the next level…and it doesn’t hurt to have Willie Nelson singing along.

Willie wasn’t at the Aotea last night but the Auckland Philharmonics Orchestra, conducted by David Kay was, along with Tami’s band (drummer Tom Broome, Chip Matthews on bass and Brett Adams on guitar) and her “Careless Women” on bvs…Julia Deans, Deva Mahal, Vanessa Abernathy  and Victoria Kelly, who wrote the string arrangements.

Starting promptly at 8pm, Tami came out swinging with a dramatic Kingmaker. The sound, the lights and the performance was perfect from the get-go.

Tami NeilsonLooking fabulous in a puffy red dress and a gold headpiece/crown (fashion writing is not my forte) Tami addressed the crowd with a sly, “Hello, Auckland”, assuring us “I’m still me, I’m still me” despite her radiant image. Then came a classic Tami snort and a giggle…a perfect start to a perfect show.

The show itself was in two parts.

Tami NeilsonThe first set featured most of the Kingmaker album, including Beyond The Stars, with co-songwriter Delaney Davidson filling in for Willie.

A highlight for me was Green Peaches with its slinky strings and fabulous flute and Tami singing about South Carolina in the summertime.

That was followed by I Can Forget, a mariachi-spiced ballad with another incredible vocal performance from Tami.

Deva Mahal stepped up to add some soulful howls to the bluesy The Grudge.

In addition the high quality of the music, Tami’s between-song banter was also something else. To call it banter is probably an insult as Tami’s stories about women’s rights…dating tips for the ladies from 1938…through to sexual harassment  and misogyny in country radio…could come across a preachy or bitter but Tami is a very skilful speaker. Unlike some musicians, there’s no mumbling and stumbling, she is clear, concise, entertaining and funny.

Set two began with just Tami and the band rocking out to Mama’s Talkin’ and Cry Over You. Of course there was a new outfit, but the spirit on stage remained strong as the APO joined in for Queenie, Queenie and Walk (Back To Your Arms)….songs from Tami’s earlier LPs.

The highlight of the second set was Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6, from 2018’s Sassafrass! album. Described by Tami as a “deep cut”, this rarely performed tune sounded exquisite with the APO.

“We came back with a bang, didn’t we”? exclaimed Tami as she intro’d the final song of the set, a defiant You Were Mine featuring another breath-taking vocal performance.

Of course there was an encore and Cry Myself To Sleep reminded us once more that not only is Tami Neilson a Kingmaker, but she is New Zealand’s Queen of Country Music.

Marty Duda

Photographs courtesy Doug Peters and Ambient Light

Click here to read the 13th Floor review of Kingmaker

Tami Neilson Setlist

Set 1:

  1. Kingmaker
  2. Baby, You’re A Gun
  3. Careless Woman
  4. Beyond The Stars
  5. King Of Country Music
  6. Green Peaches
  7. I Can Forget
  8. The Grudge
  9. Ain’t My Job

Set 2:

  1. Mama’s Talkin’
  2. Cry Over You
  3. Queenie, Queenie
  4. Walk (Back To Your Arms)
  5. Manitoba Sunrise at Motel 6
  6. You Were Mine
  7. Cry Myself To Sleep