William Dart: Playing with the grown ups

By William Dart

The Adults and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra unite in an intelligent blending of classical and rock.
The Adults and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra unite in an intelligent blending of classical and rock.

The debut album of The Adults was one of the best local releases of 2011. Here was a genuine homegrown supergroup - Jon Toogood of Shihad, Julia Deans of Fur Patrol and Shayne Carter of Straitjacket Fits, along with artists such as Anika Moa and Ladi6 on the side.

They are on stage next Thursday, with drummer Steve Bremner, presenting their music with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Hamish McKeich.

McKeich is a more familiar name on the contemporary classical circuit (his last Auckland appearance was with 175 East) but he has conducted a number of the APO's successful crossover concerts, with musicians such as Warren Maxwell and Nathan Haines.

The 45-year-old was not always the man on the podium. He started off as a bassoonist but soon found himself "far keener to do the big picture".

Now he talks of the exhilaration of being the baton bearer and enjoys "going with the flow of the performance".

In the 1980s, McKeich was listening to a singular mix of early U2 and The Cure as well as classical. "The Cure was part of my teenage rebellious streak," he says. "It was dark, like a lot of the classical music I liked and, checking it out now, the very sound takes you back to that time, like a smell."

These days, McKeich can look back on collaborations with a staggering range of rock and pop musicians, from the American Serj Tankian, "whose Armenian background makes for such distinctive and interesting harmonies", to a concert for Dutch television last year with the Pointer Sisters.

"Some projects work better than others. It depends on the group. Metallica fills up the entire spectrum with their sound so there's no room for the orchestra. It's the job of the arranger to create a space that allows the orchestra to pop their heads through."

McKeich finds that the coming together of rock and classical musicians often finds a band out of its comfort zone. A band's drummer is always a prime force in reconciling the two. "He's the loudest and the whole band sits with him," McKeich points out. "He drives the other musicians and, as a conductor, you've got to lock in with them."

Steve Bremner, of The Adults, is the perfect catalyst, having played with the APO and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. "Steve has the sort of expertise that comes through a classical training," McKeich adds. "He knows when to make it up, and always comes from an intelligent place."

The conductor also puts great store on the skill of the four arrangers for next Thursday - Bremner, Claire Cowan, Stephen Small and Hamish Oliver. Their contributions are crucial. He singles out Cowan's sensitive scoring of one song in which a low-voiced Toogood is complemented by "a nice trombone line and low brass writing, which provide just the right state of mellow. At the other end of the scale, be prepared for the large orchestral forces that Hamish brings in when he tackles the song Short Change."

Inevitably, the star line-up of Toogood, Deans and Carter will provide the anchor next week, although guest turns from Anika Moa and Ladi6 promise to recreate the magic of their appearances on that 2011 album.

McKeich is unstinting in his admiration. Deans is "totally relaxed with an orchestra", Toogood "very professional with a fantastic voice" and Carter, who brings a hardcore 1980s' Flying Nun lineage, "is simply a joy. Shayne weaves his guitar through the texture, as a semi-free agent, making these amazing sounds."


Performance

What: The Adults meet the APO

Where and when: Aotea Centre, Thursday at 8pm

- NZ Herald

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