Turns Out I Like Brooke Fraser

Last night, as part of our “let’s do more fun stuff” initiative, Deb and I went to an outdoor concert with Anika Moa, Goldenhorse and Brooke Fraser. We were a little surprised that Brooke Fraser was in the lineup, having somehow gained the impression that it was to be Bic Runga. I was even more surprised that, out of the three acts, I liked Brooke Fraser the best.

Deb and Dan at outdoor gig

The setting was salubrious provincial; a paddock at the Mudhouse winery, with 5,000-dd MoreFM listeners on blankets and picnic chairs. The weather was warm, with sun and watercolour clouds. The only mild irritation was dust raised by the odd gust, or people walking past.

Anika Moa played the Hornby Girl, confessing at the outset that she was both hung over and pissed. At times, she carried off her anti-rock star persona, but the crowd was too large, and easily distracted by their own Merlot. Her songs are great, and her voice is lovely, but her presence needed to be a lot sharper, and the music a lot more polished to hold an audience of that size.

Annoyingly, a throng of fangirls dominated the apron of the stage, interrupting the performers in voices that were clearly audible through the PA.

In a pally moment, Anika invited Kirsten Morell from Goldenhorse to accompany her. Kirsten teetered on, wine glass raised, and obliged with her attention in the crucial moments. By the time they came on for their own bracket, Kirsten and her band were the scrappy and awkward side of relaxed. “A round of applause for the sunset!” Silence. “Yay!”. The band played well, their distinctive style came through in an enjoyable set. Kirsten walked her wobbly line between rock chick and public school girl gracing us with her presence. Using a thin conceit, she invited Anika to accompany her in a song, and they brought the crowd right with them in a couple of their radio songs. Anika’s harmony to Kirsten’s lead was warm and satisfying. I was starting to really enjoy the show.

Then Brooke Fraser came on. From the moment she took up the mic, she engaged the audience clearly and directly. Her voice was strong and rich, and she was friendly and relaxed but conspicuously sober, and knew exactly what she was doing. She immediately captured my attention. Her band sounded cleaner, tighter and livelier than the others. Her guitarist and keyboardist/vioal player/backing and singer were particularly excellent. Brooke Fraser’s voice was rich and smooth, with strength and lightness. I’d been anticipating something a little wet, and was surprised that I was spellbound. Was it God? We were treated to a brief sermon about Hosea, and a couple of those jokes where mentioning riskée subjects like alcohol or bottoms is so daring that you don’t actually have to say anything funny. Maybe it was the fact that Brooke is to marry in three weeks. She seemed pretty happy with herself, and what she has to share. Perhaps she could have finished before the second encore, when things were starting to get slightly sickly.

I love Anika Moa. I think In Swings the Tide is a beautiful and accomplished album. I can take or leave Goldenhorse but I respect what they do. It was the second to last night on a long tour, they were tired, they wanted to party. They wanted to be relaxed and pally with each other, and the audience. I’ve seen this work brilliantly for Anika in a small venue. With a large crowd like this, I wanted to see more assurance, more command, more slickness and professionalism. Brooke Fraser and her group managed all this, and did so with warmth and humanity. I was impressed and entertained. I even played her album today.