Review: Little Bushman meet the Auckland Philharmonia

By Scott Kara

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Betcha the Auckland Philharmonia has never shared the stage with a bloke who greets the crowd by throwing a goat salute and affectionately calling us "bums" the way Little Bushman leader Warren Maxwell does.

While the bro-like style of the Bushman might be at odds with the orchestra's seriousness, at the end of this 90-minute concert it's clear that musically this is a perfect marriage.

In the past these sorts of collaborations, which include concerts with Shapeshifter, Dave Dobbyn, and Goldenhorse, have been grand occasions.

However, in the case of Shapeshifter the drum'n'bass overpowered the orchestra and, it could be argued, the traditional pop songs of Dobbyn and Goldenhorse were just given a classical touch-up.

On the surface, Little Bushman's improvisational style - conjuring sprawling epics of crazed psychedelic blues, roots, rock, reggae, and jazz - might present a huge challenge for the structured approach of an orchestra.

But, as it turns out, it's the best yet.

The success of it has a lot to do with the arrangement by composer John Psathas, the New Zealander who did the music for the opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics among other achievements.

It is a balanced, beautiful, and often searing set made up of songs taken from the band's 2006 debut The Onus Of Sand and last year's Pendulum.

The best example, and highlight of the night, is Little Bird off Onus which starts with escalating discord and free noise (like an orchestra warming up), before a deep groove kicks in with extra beef added by the orchestra's double bass attack, and the song is topped off by singer Lisa Tomlin's soaring soulful operatics.

The pairing of Tomlin and fellow backing vocalist Kirsten Te Rito is stunning and Maxwell, with his husky powerful voice, never misses a note - be it hitting the high ones, the soulful ones, or bellowing in Maori over the top of the orchestra and band in full flight.

Elsewhere the shuffling military beat of Nature Of Man gives way to the solitary sound of Corrupt Demeanour; Where We Get Born, a song about our "beautiful country", starts with a cheeky, secret agent styled intro before letting loose into a sonic squall of guitar and keyboards; then it's onto Pendulum, which carries on into the foreboding, and deathly, War.

The psychedelic Jimi Hendrix tribute Jimi is last before tranquility returns with encore Peaceful Man, a song written by drummer Rick Cranson.

This is one of those once in lifetime gigs you're unlikely to see the likes of again (unless, fingers crossed, they take it on the road), which makes the live album and DVD being recorded tonight one to check out when it's released.

Who: Little Bushman and Auckland Philharmonia.
Where: Auckland Town Hall.
Reviewed by: Scott Kara.

- NZ Herald

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