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Arts Festival Review: Goldenhorse


Reviewed by Ethan Tucker

March 9 -10
Festival Club

Goldenhorse will also be performing in Tuwhare, 11 - 13 March.

With a pair of best-selling albums and a televised concert with a symphony orchestra to their name, Goldenhorse are the little New Zealand band that everyone should see performing live. The Festival Club’s pavilion is an ideally-sized venue, even though the décor seems halfway between a big-top circus and a bordello.

Are Goldenhorse New Zealand’s most well-liked pop band? The question needs to be asked, because only the hardest of hearts could fail to warm to the harmonious cohesion of home-grown talents on display in their performances. It also begs the question: would Goldenhorse be less of a group if Kirsten Morelle wasn’t so… well, drop-dead gorgeous? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. Most bands would commit numerous career-endangering crimes to gain even half a chance of commanding such a wealth of skill and unerring pop sensibility. Goldenhorse have jetted from obscurity to welcome near-ubiquity in four short years for a good reason. And it only takes one listen of Blondie’s classic ‘Parallel Lines’ to remind the listener that a pretty face can’t disguise a special talent.

Opening last night with the all-stomping, all-handclapping ‘Four Minute Drive’, and segueing into the jauntily coquettish ‘Baby’s Been Bad’, Goldenhorse are quickly up to speed. As always, Kirsten Morelle’s fluid vocal range and graceful notes are the star attraction, but in the moments when she takes a brief pause from singing and the band powers on, it’s clear that the boys of Goldenhorse are well-honed artisans, fully in command of their material, able to bounce ideas off each other and enjoy the performance. ‘Northern Lights’, the chiming opening track from ‘Riverhead’, is powered along by the effervescent Morelle and her flickering tambourine, before the band slows down for a pair of quieter numbers: the gentle Maori strum of ‘Out Of The Moon’ and the swelling spirit of ‘Cold Mountainside’.

A four-song bracket of solid-Goldenhorse catchy pop numbers then gets things moving again. The killer bass and lead guitar fills of the up-tempo ‘Run Run Run’ impress, while the joyous rush of ‘Wake Up Brother’ boasts clean guitar shards illuminating the rolling rhythm and the yelping crescendos of Morelle’s vocals. ‘Used To Think’ is a straight-ahead rocker, with Morelle getting to sing the entertainingly bitchy lines, ‘Who is that girl? She is so cheap – well done baby’. Lastly, ‘Cool Pants’, the song that surely should have followed ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ to the upper reaches of the charts. It has all the hallmarks of a great Kiwi summer classic, with its pure pop hook and tremendous outro that begs to be sung along to.

The band also detours into the works of Hone Tuwhare, performing its interpretation of his poems ‘O Africa’, which turns into a stark and frenetic sound-picture. But the one they all want to hear, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ is the song that fills the aisles and gets the audience moving. Held together by Ben King’s supple rhythms, and booming out across Waitangi Park, it’s truly a song that will be remembered for years to come.

The closing encore opens with a softly-sung ‘Cowgirl Lament’, with Morelle backed only by partner Geoff Maddock on guitar. (Note to over-drunk middle-aged concert-goers with too much money and not enough good sense: shut up during the quiet numbers please!). Usual gig finale, the splendid ‘Spice Islands’, is pared back from a mammoth multiple-guitar workout to merely a rather large multiple-guitar workout, which is followed by the real finale: the opening track of Out Of The Moon, ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’. Its disco-edged glitter-ball euphoria caps off a vivid and charming performance by a band at the height of its powers.

Any complaints? They’re hard to come by at a gig this good. Perhaps the boys could be coaxed into contributing more of their warm-toned backing vocals to complement Morelle’s powerful efforts. And it has to be said that Goldenhorse have never been masters of stage patter or engaging with the audience. But when you’ve got first-class songs like these, and the ability to put on a show this gleamingly sunny, does anyone really care?

Four Minute Drive
Baby’s Been Bad
Northern Lights
Out Of The Moon
Cold Mountainside
Run Run Run
Wake Up Brother
Used To Think
Cool Pants
O Africa (Tuwhare poem)
Trinkity Trunk
Frozen Lake (new song)
Maybe Tomorrow

Cowgirl Lament
Spice Islands
Don’t Wake Me Up


NZ Arts Festival: Goldenhorse
Goldenhorse website
Scoop Full Coverage: Festival 2006

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