Teeks – Spark Arena: November 12, 2022 (Concert Review)

Teeks performed at Auckland’s Spark Arena last night. 13th Floor’s reviewer Robin Kearns and photographer Tara Ranchhod were on the scene!

In the world of musical performances, there are gigs (less formal), concerts (larger scale and more choreographed) and shows (where theatre meets music). In the face of daunting competition from rugby across town, Teeks put on one heck of a show last night. No opening act, a captivated audience and a moving performance – in both senses of the word. Swagger with humility. Occasional te reo. And that velvety voice.

Last time I saw Teeks was 2017 with the Blackbird Ensemble interpreting the songs of Bjork. His captivating voice and presence in pure white that night was utterly memorable. So tonight, five years on, I had some catching up to do.

Spark Arena can feel vast and cavernous, but this show was intimate – as it needed to be given the aching longing and lovestruck character of Teeks’ songs. This intimacy was achieved with a central rotating stage and seating radiating out in ‘pizza slice’ geometry. Everyone could feel the man was, at some stage, singing to them.

Excitement was palpable ahead as a projected digital clock counted down with the audience joining in for the last seconds. Then whoops of delight as the man himself appeared on a small satellite stage under stark spotlight beam. The Just for Tonight show was underway with the sound of waves and images of Teeks in a car heading to the coast. The 20-something Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi made his way to the central stage in black leather pants and sleeveless top.

From there he crooned and conversed surrounded by 13 fine musicians. Opening with Pull Me Down, the rawness of feeling addressed in his lyrics was upfront from the outset (“Can you leave the light on/cause I’m afraid…I think I’m about to drown/pull me out of this place”). In an era in which mental wellbeing is finally getting due recognition in Aotearoa, Teeks is surely an ambassador. Remember Me was up next with Teeks’ confessional line “I don’t care about my pride”. This could just be the modeling of masculinity we need in this land. As he sings of needs, fears and yearnings Teeks brings a devoted audience along with him. And what a diverse audience…

Significantly, no doubt, his first words were in te reo followed by “My legs are shaking, I’m nervous as hell”.  And then “This is my first arena show. I’m just a small town Māori boy from Hokianga…Māori are good at imagining… I imagined one day I’d sing in an arena”.  He had arrived.

Cousin Majic took the mic at one stage leading a waiata about nearby Takaparawhau (Bastion Point). This prompted Teeks to call out “What do we want?” asking the crowd to  respond with “Land back”.  Did those compliantly responding appreciate the implications? Did they know the chant  reaches back to the hikoi to Parliament led by Hokianga’s Whina Cooper? Did they know about contemporary struggles at Ihumatao or Putiki? Teeks is too much of a soul singer to preach. He left the audience to join the dots. But he is true enough to his roots to not throw down a wero, inviting connections  between the human heart and the soul of the land

It was a setlist with something for everyone. There were Teeks songs (Wash Over Me almost channeling the Caledonia soul of Van Morrison) and there were covers  (notably,  Terence Trent D’Arby’s Holding Onto You).

At one point the flow was broken by cheers and whoops from a  corner of the arena. Was it news of the Black Ferns result? No, it was a marriage proposal, perhaps the ultimate expression of love for and in the midst of Teeks. In an impromptu  break in proceedings Jayden and his new fiancée were duly invited up to the stage and offered a white rose. Cheesy? Perhaps to a cynic but the title of that Bjork tribute five years ago echoed: All is Full of Love.

Highlights? For me, the exquisite and delicate Waves, perhaps. But the sum  was greater than the parts: seeing a local artist connect so intimately to a large audience in the face of competition to be elsewhere on an historic Saturday night. And to see one of our own, backed by a crack band, truly own the stage. This was no gg or concert. No, it was an exquisitely beautiful show.

Robin Kearns

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Tara Ranchhod: