Live review: Tiny Ruins, Crystal Palace

By Lydia Jenkin

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Singers-songwriter Tiny Ruins enchants her homecoming audience with a show christening her second album Brightly Painted One at Mt Eden's Crystal Palace
Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins.
Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins.

Sometimes as a reviewer it can feel disingenuous to use terms like marvellous, brilliant, and stunning - they don't quite ring true if the subject didn't actually blow you away. But for Tiny Ruins' show last night at the Crystal Palace Theatre, the superlatives come easy.

From the moment you joined the queue, which was snaking its way down Mt Eden road, there was that tingling feeling the evening would be a memorable one.

Tiny Ruins - aka Hollie Fullbrook - had spent some of last month in some of the grand theatres of Europe, opening for Neil Finn and playing cello in his backing band.

The Crystal Palace might not be quite as flash and it hasn't been used as a concert venue for years, but it still felt like the perfect place for Fullbrook and band for an Auckland homecoming christening her excellent second long-player Brightly Painted One.

It is after all, right above the The Lab Recording Studio where Fullbrook recorded the five-star album.

The Crystal Palace is a special venue. The beautiful glass paneled doors at the entrance, the grand proscenium arch, the perfectly sloping wooden floor, and even the well arranged but slightly rickety red seats have an air of occasion too them, despite being a little battered by time.

And the three acts on offer seemed like the perfect choices to bring the stage alive once more.

Lyttelton's folk ingénue, Aldous Harding, who released her self-titled debut album in May, started proceedings promptly, and quickly had the crowd spellbound. Her unusual but powerful voice (think Vashti Bunyan) tears at your heart with tracks like Little Bones of Courage, and The Hunter, her intricate guitar playing on Beast was mesmerising, and the vocal harmonies weaved with her accompanist were just beautiful.

The surprise turned out to be that she's also something of a comedienne.

Dry and self-deprecating, she had the 600 strong crowd in stitches with her banter, and her eye-opening covers of Africa by Toto ("the best song ever written"), Crying by Roy Orbison, and classic cowboy song Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The classy, irreverent, psychedelic jazz of The Carnivorous Plant Society was an irresistible follow up. Led by Finn Scholes, who deftly plays multiple keys and organ parts, while also turning out some of the best trumpet solos you'll ever hear (locally anyway), they entwine the sounds of Spaghetti Westerns, Mexican mariachi, and French surf jazz in cinematic compositions.

His band - Cass Basil on double bass, Alex Freer on drums, and brother Tam Scholes on guitar - are also mostly Fullbrook's band (Tam Scholes swaps out with guitarists and producer Tom Healey, and Siobhanne Thompson joins in on vibraphone and violin), and they understand the all important subtleties of dynamics, and how to give each instrument space to shine in the arrangements.

Plus they can get one heck of a groove going.

So when Fullbrook took the stage at the civilised hour of 10pm, everyone looked relaxed and in control as they set about recreating the compelling tunes from Brightly Painted One.

Starting with the album's first five tunes in order, Fullbrook had hairs prickling up arms and necks with her signature style of charming and gentle, yet emotionally pointed tales.

Carriages was a beautifully yearning slice of folk-soul, and Chainmail Maker an intimate portrait of heartbreak. But the first triumph came with Reasonable Man, and its swelling, radiant arrangements around lyrics that walk between dreamy and cynical.

The way which She'll Be Coming Around moves from atmospheric elegance into a heady, intoxicating groove at the end was also a highlight.

Of course, she also delved into some favourites from her first album - the complex yet catchy guitar patterns on Death of a Russian were a delight, and the seductive swing of You've Got The Kind Of Nerve I Like had the audience singing along, though for most of the evening, you could've heard a pin drop, so entranced were the crowd.

There were two standing ovations though, and rapturous discussions of the evening round the bar afterwards. Those first excited murmurs that anticipated a memorable night in the offing, turned out to be spot on.

- NZ Herald

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