Launching the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival, the Modern Maori Quartet ladled out charm by the kete-ful, with a tight set of banter 'n' ballads that should have had the late Sir Howard Morrison beaming down from heaven.

Four years on, the group's current nationwide tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is a good deal more ambitious: "not your normal orchestra show," as they quipped from the stage, "but a good old Maori garage party."

This underlying concept, involving kai, booze, aroha, dancing, more kai and memories, strains somewhat. A few dodgy jokes, like the one about making do with a middle-aged Pakeha woman after missing out on a Maori bride, were squirm-inducing.

Accommodation was found for Hamish McKeich and his musicians in this capacious imaginary shed but, despite special arrangements from a crop of Kiwi composers, the orchestral sound needed the Svengali control of a Burt Bacharach to do justice to the commissioned charts.

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It was distracting to watch busy and inaudible violinists and cellists who might as well have had no strings on their instruments, although Robbie Ellis scored some clever touches in a tongue-in-cheek, stop-and-go Ten Guitars.

As the evening progressed, with too many of the group's original songs falling curiously flat, was I the only one who would have welcomed more classics from the TANZA songbook?

In a show running for just more than 90 minutes, without interval, there was a lot of korero. As much as one admires the sharp to-and-fro of the four men, the incessant bro-talk wore thin. How many, towards the end of the evening, felt sympathy for a solitary shout from the stalls of "Sing the song man," which they did, with renewed kaha.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - Summer Pops with the Modern Maori Quartet
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart