First Published on www.grooveguide.co.nz – Jan 2013
You can’t beat Wellington on a good day, you know. Neither can you beat a good gig at the Town Hall. In more youthful times it’s seen square dances, Lodge meets, Royal Tours and organ concerts. Speaking of, Wellington town hall pipe organ is one of the oldest and most impressively working instruments in the Capital, save for the Carillon down in Buckle Street. And tonight it was majestically, dramatically, lit up in beams of intense indigo and blood red against a dense black. It was the perfect setting for Chelsea Jade Metcalf, AKA Watercolours, to lay down her palette, excuse the pun, of brooding angular tech fused pop. The winner of last year’s New Zealand Music Awards Critics Choice Award gingerly approached her laptop, twiddled knobs on her sparse ironing board set up before launching into her work. The problem was that the well dressed crowd of 20 somethings and elder statespeople didn’t care. Metcalf attempted with cringing embarrassment to engage her audience with awkward comments and flatlining statements that further alienated her apathetic onlookers. The guy next to me went to the bar four times and probably the toilet too. He commented that she’d be useful at the end of the night when security needed to clear the room. I was at a loss to find a counter argument. But Metcalf’s music showed promise, so I made notes to check her out online, especially “Secrets'” which she wrote with Boy Crush. It was rich, sensual, moody, fresh electronica metered out with walls or fender angst noise. Yet despite help from guitarist ‘Jeremy from She’s So Rad’ the Watercolour’s warm up act left me cold and washed out. Sorry.
Following the obligatory drinks and comfort stop break, the room darkened again and slowly musicians took the stage, plying sparse chords almost singular notes with intense operation. Chan Marshall arrived quietly opening with the first verse of “The Greatest”, the title track from her most well known work. With short peroxided hair, powder Blue jacker, tight black stovepipes and bolero boots she emerged the mature, wearied but wizened traveller. Her soulful, husky voice built layer upon layer of melodrama as each verse approached and left, building the tension like a coiled spring and then slowly, achingly slowly releasing itself. The effect was spine tinglingly powerful.
Then, almost as light relief, ‘Cherokee’ from the new album Sun, comes thundering in. Although the song is about pain and pleads for burial inverted ‘ I die before my time”, this is a more gutteral experience than the disco sliver on the CD version.
Unlike Metcalfe before her, Marshall makes little attempt to speak relying on the power of her music, utterly evident in the raw emotion of “Silent Machine” which features two drummers and an atomic blast of guitars. Marshall’s show was a real mix between the earlier smouldering numbers like “Bully”, “King Rides By” and “Manhattan” and the uptown/down beat numbers from her Paris project, Sun – “Human Being”, and “Peace” and “Love”. Title “Sun” gave the perfect moment to pull out the lighters and hold aloft. That set off every security guard in the building diving into to the crowd. With fans as well healed as these the only threat they’d really posed before that was an accidental toe stabbing from a stiletto.
Towards the end of the show, with much of her massive aquifer of water drunk, Marshall to the chance to further showcase her astounding vocal abilities, performing an outstanding version of ‘Angelitos Negros’ (which is a Pedro Infante song)before a merge to “Nothin’ But Time” and the bluesy Cat Power classic “I Don’t Blame You”.
With still little said she disappears off stage and returns with a massive bunch of lilies, during the end of ‘Ruin’ the perfect book end. Flowers strewn into the crown, she takes her bows, gestures the band and bows many times more as Kanye West comes over the speakers. There are no encores, no stamping of feet or handholding and over-bowing – Just a lone woman glowing in appreciation and her audience showing the love.