Concert Review: Dudley Benson, Oratia Settlers Hall

By William Dart

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Dudley Benson's older material provided some dark humour. Photo / David White
Dudley Benson's older material provided some dark humour. Photo / David White

Oratia's Settlers Hall proved just the right down-home venue for the closing concert of Dudley Benson's national tour.

The evening was elegantly launched by Cat Ruka who brought sculptural precision to her Balinese-influenced dance piece.

Benson and his Dawn Chorus then greeted us with Tonight you belong to me in languid doo-wop; I for one was helplessly ensnared.

The main fare was the singer's new takes on Hirini Melbourne's waiata, naive yet touching salutes to the birdlife of Aotearoa.

The songs, ingeniously reworked, fluttered with new wings. Tirairaka had the fantail pirouetting in eddies of throat-singing; in Pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo heralded warmth and life in full choral splendour.

When not delivering his counter-tenor soul like an elfin Sam Cooke, Benson turned to his quartet of barbershoppers, conducting them with choirmasterly zeal.

In Tui, Jess Benson guested on solo vocals, and brother Dudley descanted in te reo Maori, creating the ultimate Kiwi waltz, a Blue Smoke for our times.

Not all the songs were avian in inspiration. After what could only be described as a reggae scherzo for the butterfly life-cycle in Purerehau, the hero of Pungawerewere was personalised as Paul the spider who had built his whare in the singer's flat. Here, an innocent waltz was worked up with madrigalian zest, before being taken to funktown by Hopey One's brilliant mouth-to-mike beats.

Among Benson's older material, the dark humour of Asthma, whistled and sung in breathless rounds, was warmly received. Willow had Benson soaring against a backdrop worthy of the King's Singers.

Catching the show for the second time, four weeks after its first outing, the increased confidence and relaxation of the musicians were very much evident.

And so, when Hopey One took off with a beatbox cadenza in the song Nothing Left, the audience could barely be restrained; a second beatbox breakout in It's Akaroa's Fault had the Dawn Chorus letting loose with sharp dance moves behind their mikes.

Encores included a valiant, unaccompanied seven-minute waiata in progress.

Miraculously sustained, it concerned an eco-message hiding in beautiful birdsong and Benson gauged its rhetoric and vulnerability to perfection.

What: Dudley Benson.

Where: Oratia Settlers Hall.

When: Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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