It might've been held right next door to the Vector Arena, but Saturday night's show at the Tuning Fork was a wonderfully refreshing contrast to all the razzle-dazzle that goes on in the neighbouring venue.

That's not to say there wasn't plenty of sparkle coming from the stage, but it was in the form of shimmering waves and walls of sound, rather than sequined costumes or flashing lights, as two bands led by two of New Zealand's finest songwriters well and truly brought the good times.

Voom, who remain one of the most whoop-inducing alt-pop acts around, but so rarely play a show or release any music, were up first. And it was a treat to hear tracks like Relax, B Your Boy, and King Kong whirling from Buzz Moller's mouth once more, with Murray Fisher providing plenty of top-notch unassuming guitar riffs.

But it was SJD's night, with Sean Donnelly and his remarkable five-piece band embracing their joyous pop side to celebrate the release of their latest album Saint John Divine.


The setlist combined many of the hip-swinging tracks from Saint John Divine like late night groove Cats Eyes, and mesmeric Change The Channel, with songs from impossibly funky 2007 album Songs From A Dictaphone, and a few other favourites.

The whole evening was a masterclass in musical accomplishment, but it was clear the band were having a great time too, mixing just the right amount of serious and silly in their banter, and working their dynamics beautifully.

Bassist Mike Hall, who also does plenty of characterful backing vocals, and excellent ring-in drummer Alistair Deverick provided an effortless sounding, bright base layer, while Victoria Kelly sprinkled all sorts of magical keyboard/organ parts over the top, while also adding her own angelic vocals, with Bad Karma In Yokohama being a prime example.

James Duncan had a ripper of a show - he's another unassuming guitarist who works his wizardry while standing in the back, adding cinematic grandeur to tracks like Helensville and Jet Planes.

And the always soulful Sandy Mill gave an equally stunning performance, always pitching her voice just right for tracks like the fragile I Saw The Future, or the bold and sassy I Am The Radio.

Of course Sean Donnelly is the centre of this beautiful whirling musical storm, and his chameleonic vocal abilities remain a marvel whether he's ripping through brilliant stomping singalong I Wanna Be Foolish (which will be delightfully stuck in your head all night), or treading lightly and huskily through Little Pieces with lovely special guest Julia Deans.

After the spell-binding but dark and isolating sounds of his last album Elastic Wasteland, it's a real pleasure to see Donnelly back in front of his band, mixing songs of critical contemplation and occasional cynicism with plenty of moments both content and hopeful, and still capable of making an audience dance until their legs hurt.

Who: SJD and Voom
Where and when: The Tuning Fork, Auckland, Saturday April 18
Reviewed by: Lydia Jenkin