The 13th Floor Continues to Explore the NZ Festival

The New Zealand Festival continues this week in Wellington. Tim Gruar and Ruben Mita were there to sample some of the music and events. Highlights include: collaborations between Lawrence Arabia, Luke Buda and Sam Scott and another with Laughton Kora and Bailey Wiley; a dazzling jazz performance from American bass king Thundercat; folk  by The Staves; and a bit of a laugh from Aussie comedienne Zoë Coombs Marr.

Arabia-Buda-Scott – Tuesday 27 February, Festival Club


The pop-up festival club on the waterfront was filled to capacity for Arabia-Buda-Scott’s Tuesday evening performance.  Musical collaborators Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott (both of The Phoenix Foundation) and Lawrence Arabia joined forces for a stripped-back set of compositions new and old.  The three were spread out equally along the front of the small stage, decorated with mannequin body parts juggling guitars, basses and keyboards in different combinations.

While stripped back, the trio made heavy use of pre-programmed drum machines, keyboards and backing tracks to flesh out their performance. These performances were often a little loose and disconnected musically and at times felt slightly under-rehearsed. The trio acknowledged this with a few knowing glances and mid-song laughter.

Despite their accomplishments, all three performers leaned heavily on a sense of novelty to win the audience over. One track was delivered with all three playing keyboards set to a glockenspiel, while another was a comical rocker driven by Buda’s keyboard drumming.  The encore was an unexpected mic-in-hand shared-vocal cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally), which they preceded by warning us that they didn’t want to leave the stage first, as they didn’t want to build up the hope that they had anything good prepared to follow with.

The novelty factor of the set didn’t always bring out the best in the performer’s songs, but it was endearing and entertaining nonetheless. The trio’s jokes, instrumental awkwardness and occasional humorous self-deprecation quickly broke down any barrier between them and the audience. A social success if not entirely a musical one.

Reviewed By Ruben Mita

Pacific Party: Laughton Kora and Bailey Wiley – Wednesday 28 February, Festival Club

Bailey Wiley
Bailey Wiley

The following night Laughton Kora and Bailey Wiley played The Festival Club to an almost empty house. However, I found their set far more musically engaging than the Arabia-Buda-Scott gig.  Kora began alone with his guitar and a laptop playing backing tracks, before being joined by a drummer who played on an electronic pad, fleshing out the smooth dub sound. He is a fantastic lead guitarist and singer, and gripped the small but enthusiastic crowd from the start.

Kiwi pop and soul singer Bailey Wiley (introduced by Kora as “the artist you’ve actually come to see”) completed the trio, working her way through solo material to the backing tracks and musical accompaniment of the others.  Kora’s guitar interjections and vocal contributions really the performance up.

On stage all three were a pleasure to watch, beaming smiles, enthusiasm, and physical interaction with the music and each other. Soon a small but enthusiastic group had taken to the previously empty floor in front of the stage to dance, and the group grew when they launched into a shared-vocal medley of well-known covers.  If I’d been told beforehand that I’d be watching a set that included covers of of MGMT’s Electric Feel, Blackstreet’s No Diggity and Estelle’s American Boy, it would have been enough to put me off, but the soulful musical delivery and enthusiasm successfully kept the cheesiness at bay.

It all ended just a little over an hour after starting, in keeping with the festival’s short scheduled set times, leaving a buzzing and appreciative audience.

Reviewed by Ruben Mita

Thundercat – 1 March, Festival Club, Wellington

Thundercat at the Festival Club

The first I’d heard of Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner was when Kimbra told me about his collaborations with Flying Lotus, whom she’d seen in LA whilst recording there. On record Thundercat sounds great, especially his seminal work Drunk, which came out a couple of years ago, but live – well, that’s something else. Tonight he was backed by just a drummer and keyboardist. However, the sound and energy that three-piece put into playing was phenomenal. They played like a dysfunctional family argument, somehow in contention but always remaining in harmony, too.

“Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?” came the question. And then Rabbit Ho, from Drunk kicked in, closely followed by a very jazzy Captain Stupido. That one broke into a barrage of free jazz, with the keyboardist (unannounced, along with his drummer) running his hands up and down the black and whites like an indecisive mouse on acid tabs. Twisting, turning, vamping and all in complete juxtaposition to Thundercat’s bass and his very able percussionist, who was also going hell-for-leather in the other corner. Mozart once said that Opera was the only time that you can hear everyone speak at once and still be heard.I think he might of been wrong because despite the speed and energy you could hear ever note, quaver and beat.

The band mainly played material from the Drunk album, including Bus In These Streets, and later a super funky version of Walk on By and Drink Dat followed closely by Friendzone and Them Changes. Thundercat has spent most of his time as a session musician or side man (on bass) in bands like Suicidal Tendencies, so fronting up was clearly not his strong suit. He was friendly but mostly just played, hiding behind his dreadlocks, peaked cap and over sized fret-board.

The show was sold out but there seemed plenty of standing room as the crowd were  content to stand dreamily and drift along with the music rather than rage it up. Thundercat politely slipped off after completing his final track, Dui, two minutes before the set was due to finish.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Zoë Coombs Marr – Saturday 3 March, The Festival Club

Aussie comic Zoë Coombs Marr continuously breaks her own 3rd wall by interrupting a Zoe Coombes-Marrcharacter she’s created: the sexist, dominant, white male comedian. Meet Dave. He’s the most sexist, white male you can get. He arrives on stage for his female degradation stand-up, but must resort to an absurdist mime routine due to political correctness. Things do not go well as he concusses himself on the glass ceiling of a box he’s trying to mime, and in the process ends up exposing his inner clown (Zoë Coombs Marr) to a panel discussion on sexual inequality. Keeping up?

Dave/Zoë’s comedy might be a bit surrealist and, at times, downright rude but it’s hilarious. The hour flies by. Her timing is impeccable, with music and lighting seemingly effortless – a show that is well rehearsed and superbly executed. Her facial expressions are priceless, skipping between characters and hyper reality – comedian and mime and horrible dancer. I loved this witty, confronting and original comedy. Best line comes from Dave: “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s a pretty difficult time to be a white guy right now!” Oh, poor you. Not!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Staves – Sunday 4 March, The Festival Club

The StavesFor the last gig of the weekend I was expecting a chilled out spot of folk music from Watford sisters Camilla, Emily and Jessica Stavely-Taylor. The programme promised sounds similar to Garfunkel, Crosby, Stillls, Nash and the Beatles. No, what the sisters gave us was so much better.

Opening with a simple folk a cappella called Wisely & Slow, the sisters’ trademark harmonies were mesmerising. Then the guitars and digital toys came out for a rocking version of Blood I Bled and Outlaw.  For the next tune, Camilla used a pedal to loop her ethereal harmonies while the sisters sung their own over the top.  The blending was a bit of an insight into how they created the spine-tingling energies in Steady.

The set finished with a delightfully menacing rock tune Black & White, followed by Teeth White and a deliciously distorted vocal delivery on Tired As Fuck, helped along by their sound man.

For their encore, the sisters gathered around an upright ambient mic for three stripped back tunes accompanied only by Jessica’s guitar – Long Run, These Days and their finale, Mexico. Half way through the first chorus of Mexico, the mic blew a fuse and died – the sisters shuffled forward and continued a cappella. It brought home what amazingly beautiful, natural voices these sisters have.

The Staves play again on Tuesday. But after word gets out I reckon they’ll be sold out.  Still, if you hurry….

Reviewed by Tim Gruar