Gig review: Fabulous/Arabia, Kings Arms

By Dan Trevarthen

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James Milne and Mike Fabulous are Fabulous/Arabia. Photo / Jenna Todd
James Milne and Mike Fabulous are Fabulous/Arabia. Photo / Jenna Todd

You knew this was going to be fun.

With 60 per cent of the band in dinner jackets and the salty whiff of yacht rock in the air, Fabulous/Arabia are jovially enjoying a glass of bubbly on stage before kicking things off.

This new collaboration sees Mike Fabulous of the Black Seeds making the music, which is all smooth grooves and drawn-out instrumentals, while Lawrence Arabia's James Milne sings.

It's an odd pairing alright, but it makes for a very playful take on funk. The disparity is more striking when the live band includes musicians who have played with TrinityRoots and Fat Freddy's Drop, creating a deeply funky bed for Milne's charmingly awkward lyrical come-ons and quivering voice. It usually starts out smooth and suave before swiftly getting hot and heavy - pretty sure Fabulous on bass is already in a jazz trance as The Ballad of State Highway 1 heads to its brass-touched outro.

Their album Unlimited Buffet is great, but it doesn't do their live set justice.

Save its falsetto refrain (oh yeah, that's why James Milne is awesome on this stuff), the sexed-up live rendition of Give Me Love Tonight is unrecognisable from its tamer recorded version.

They're the same parts, but the groove is unstoppable as it extends and embellishes. Extended jam sections are the order of the day, but each song varies its approach enough that it very rarely grates; only the noisy guitar coda of It (Will Kill You) seems half-baked, and that's mostly because it doesn't play to this band's strengths.

Their kind of instrumental muscle wouldn't normally come across as cool in an indie rock sense, but with the varying backgrounds of the line-up and Milne's lyrical wit delivered via unabashed jazz school chops, any irony is instantly parried by equal parts sincerity.

While Fabulous/Arabia might not get fans rushing to check out the Wellington dub scene or vice versa, the feet don't lie - we're close to midnight on a Sunday and Aucklanders are dancing.

What: Fabulous/Arabia
Where: Kings Arms, Auckland
When: Sunday, October 9

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