Terrible Sons & Rodney Fisher – Wine Cellar: Nov. 16, 2022

Terrible Sons was described last year in the NZ Herald, as “the biggest band you probably haven’t heard of”. Last night was testament to that status.

Despite their songs clocking up respectable hits on Spotify (Tears May Fall currently sits at over 20 million), it was only a modest audience of about 40 that gathered to enjoy their spare and harmony-rich music. Few would have left without feeling they deserve wider attention.

Rodney Fisher

First up was friend of the Sons, Rodney Fisher, who also opened for them at their last Auckland appearance at Freida Margolis in 2021. With a softly whispered voice against jangly guitar chords, his set launched with ‘Something Nothing’. Accompanying Rodney was Lizzie Buckston on keyboard as well as adding vocal harmonies.

A Wine Cellar gig is where a polished performance can also be punctuated by imperfection and embraced with good humour by all. This evening Rodney “had a conversation with his setlist” and then took issue with his ‘backing band’, The Response from Christchurch who were pre-recorded on his laptop. No risk of absent collaborators glaring back when you say, with an affectionate smile, “they fucked it up for me”.

Fisher’s lyrics are heartfelt and engaging. On Locked Up he sings “I’m beginning to find all the things you keep locked up”. Perhaps relatedly, there was mention of a “lockdown album” with The Response and songs like By the Sea suggest this to be an intriguing prospect. Back to This had Rodney strumming and singing to rhythmic beats reminiscent of early solo Tim Finn.

A highlight was when Fisher introduced a song “that should have been called ‘Batshit Crazy’. On a warm Auckland night the man of Good Shirt fame wiped his face on his T- and offered us a love song replete with primal yearning. Yes, it’s been done before, but there really can never be too many songs about love. And we all know a little of that batshit crazy feeling for someone. And if we don’t, its time we did.

Matt and Lauren of Terrible Sons joined Rodney and Lizzie for Keeping Up Appearances and the four-way harmonies were gorgeous. After the “80s dance version” of the final song ‘Take it Slow’ this enjoyable opening set ended with Rodney saying “We’re gonna be a band when we grow up”.  Excellent prospect!

Terrible Sons

As the headline act got organised, classical music filled the room: ominous oboe and severe sounding strings. A sense of impending. Terrible maybe. To those of us who have seen them before or immersed ourselves in their repertoire, the name Terrible Sons – more suggestive of a metal band maybe – is ironic. For it would be hard to find gentler souls than Lauren (L. A Mitchell) and Matt Barus (The Dukes).

Matt opened saying “We’re Terrible Sons. We were shitting our pants earlier”. There’s a gritty realness in this greeting that pervades their performance. We were warned. The set would, at times, be quiet and sad. Second song in is Rolling Thunder, inspired by an associate whose life was consumed by mental illness. Then Alright, Alright speaks of a friend in the grip of addiction and Matt’s efforts to write a song about how to be hopeful. On What a Friend, we have a questioning of the limits of connecting with others when they drift into despair. Do we let ourselves down in encountering our own limits? This may sound like a deep and heavy question but their songs are carried with a lightness of voice and spare beauty of instrumentation. At times the themes to these songs seem to channel John Prine’s compassion for those hovering at the margins of acceptance and wellbeing. Or maybe Ron Sexsmith: early songs like Cheap Hotel. And sometimes it’s the world at large that weighs heavily. The World is Walking Over Us, is introduced as a happy-sounding song about the grim state of the planet and “sort of inspired by The Smiths”.

Not all of the set had underlying sombre themes. Love of the more focussed couple-kind shone through on the glorious Streets of New Love. Indeed, the solid mutual regard between Matt and Lauren seemed to shine in their very demeanour on stage: rather than look out to the audience, they spent most of the set looking at each other. Checking for cues maybe but also as if feeding off the depth of fondness for each other.

This was a show that felt as if delivered to friends – both longstanding and yet to be made. And oh what harmonies. There’s something about couples who perform with finesse. Think Over the Rhine..

And such fine musicianship. Watching Lauren’s fingers dance up and down the keyboard was a delight and reminder of her substantial career as L A Mitchell. And Matt’s gentle acoustic pick and strum offered an exceptional complement.

Terrible Sons performs songs that are deeply humane and replete with compassion and solidarity. This was one of the year’s exquisite gigs. Sometime soon kiwi audiences will discover what millions of Spotify listeners already know: Terrible Sons warrant serious attention.

Robin Kearns

Rodney Fisher setlist:

  1. Something Nothing
  2. Locked Up
  3. By the Sea
  4. Back to This
  5. I See You
  6. Keeping up Appearances
  7. Taking it Slow


Terrible Sons setlist:

  1. Ruffle
  2. Rolling Thunder
  3. Streets of New Love
  4. What a Friend
  5. Holed Up
  6. Tears Don’t Fall
  7. Alright, Alright
  8. The World is Walking Over Us
  9. Tomorrow Always Comes
  10. Hold Your Light High
  11. Sunset Swimming
  12. Dark Song
  13. Just Like Heaven (Cure over)