The Te Puna Correspondent reviews an evening with local musicians,The Remarkables, at the Tauranga Historic Village Hall, 3 May 2015.
Since the Te Puna Correspondent has, so far, been unable to get to the Remarkables, it follows that The Remarkables must come to her. The same weekend as an earthquake in Wanaka, a vigorous, fast-moving, foot-stompin’ mix of instruments, including the world’s smallest locally-devised percussion kit, moved into town and took it away with a range of tunes and songs that stretched all the way from Leipzig to Louisiana. (Now that’s some sort of tectonic fault…)
Eclectic is an over-used term. While it’s intriguing to speculate that a tighter focus for the undoubted virtuosity of this self-described “bluegrasscountryswing” four-piece unit might make them more appreciated by a few, it’s also true that the wider arcs they took through songs and tunes old and new, extending to the improvisational invitation offered by Bach’s Minuet in G, meant that at the Historic Village gig there was an open-handed helping of something for everyone there.
The Remarkables’ repertoire does defy categorisation. The good-sized crowd in the Village Hall was there to enjoy and admire, rather than to purse lips on stylistic grounds. Style-wise, however, the jazz-based idioms and pure good humour are right in the mainstream of what’s now called Western Swing (a whole lot shorter description than the mashup mentioned above.) Think Ry Cooder, and his shrewd ability to hone in on the essence of any given folk/jazz/blues genre. The charm of this group lies in their mix of splendidly shared-out instrumental handling, coupled with a playlist of songs that, well, traverse the moods from Sittin’ on Top of the World to sinking in a Luxury Liner (“Titanic, Fare Thee Well”, complete with a tiny percussion moment on the point of impact).
Even in a good-humoured way, a lot of people died in the first set. A less-travelled rendering of “Frankie and Johnny” opened, although the outcome was as expected. Moving on via the “Same ol’ Used-to-be”, enlivened by the oom-pah of a handsome tin jug, to “Always Hurt[ing]the One you Love”, (in which Robbie Laven rescued Bryan Christiansen’s out-of-tune 5-stringed banjo – “Banjos always have to be tuned…” explained guitarist and lead singer Neil Finlay – with a band saw that sounded like a theramin), we arrived at the haunting strangeness of “White Dove”, a mourning song for lost parents, a sad waltz towards mortality. A bracing Cold Frosty Morning instrumental woke us up, John Henry’s hammer took him to his grave, and the Harvest Moon shone down benignly before the interval.
Things definitely cheered up after that. Honeysuckle Rose and a Cajun French invention of Robbie’s, employing a triangle as rhythm for the first time ever in the experience of the TPC, were followed by a warning against the evils of drink, “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”. And then the best item of the night: “Blue Drag”, which did not drag at all, showing off the best singing from the group, as well as truly inspired ensemble playing as the banjo, guitar and mandolin took the lead in turns, anchored ably by Garry Trotman on the double bass.
In fact, not only did fewer people die, the music got better and better in the second half: the cover of Neil Young’s “Wild Horses” sat well in the band’s voices and set a mellow tone for the farewell, ‘See You in My Dreams”. The audience did not take the hint, however. It took the ironic ballad of the sinking of the Titanic, based on the White Star Line’s refusal to provide passage to black boxer Jack Johnson, to persuade us that it really was going-home time. This was a generous concert, well-run by the Acoustic Music Club. Next time, a podium or even some higher chairs for the musicians would be nice for an audience who clearly knew what they were listening out for. On the other hand, there was standing room: and, on the whole, standing up for The Remarkables does not seem such a lot to ask.
The Te Puna Correspondent is a Tauranga resident involved in a wide range of creative and community activities. Her perceptive, witty and sometimes trenchent comments are appreciated by ARTbop readers.