First Published On www.13thfloor.co.nz
Like his Auckland gig at the Wine Cellar, Steve Abel’s appearance at Meow was short and very sweet. He starts, as any good host should, by thanking the opener Reb Fountain for her own very sweet 10 cent mixture of deprecating banter and whiskey-soaked, forlorn cowgirl tunes culminating in a surprisingly upbeat singalong version of desperate times Hope and Hopeful.
He noted that once upon a time it was Reb and Marlon Williams that had the support slots, in tiny fonts on his gig posters. Pretty soon that had reversed and it was Marlon on the larger letters but the time had come for Reb to be the headliner, he reckoned. Reb’s a bit of a national treasure these days and even with terminal bronchitis, she’s the real deal. Apparently, there’s a new ep out soon but for all those who wanted to buy a CD at the merch stand check out her Facebook page.
Flanked by Reb Fountain, who returned as a backing singer and guitarist/pianist Jonathan Pearce, Steve Abel plays through a mix of his new album, Luck/Hope and a selection of older tunes from his previous releases Flax Happy and Little Death. Through my little viewfinder, I can help being reminded of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis but his manner is far more gentle. His slightly gravelling, bourbon tonsils carry the conviction needed to pull off these simple songs of truth and love.
There’s a lovely story that Steve tells to the room: The last time I was here in Wellington, there was about 7 people. One was appalled at the low turnout so they started organising house parties. It’s his gig in Carterton we’re playing tomorrow. So thanks!”
The new song mixes well with the old material, especially the title track and Not Going Anywhere, which, on the album feature none other than Jolie Holland. The album originally came together in 2009 but wasn’t completed until new, yet all the material seems timeless. None could be truer than the single Best Thing. Steve tells the audience that this song is at least 20 year’s old. He’d sung it t a birthday, at weddings and to his mother on the day she passed away. A very versatile song indeed. Although it’s Reb instead of Jolie on the vocals it still gives you goosebumps.
The audience, a few more than just 7, appreciated it to pulling them back for a couple of well-earned encores finishing with the stunning and lilting Hospice for Destitute Lovers, perhaps his most poignant song and still the best example of his ability to write wonderful deeply contemplative lyrics. “This is not an ode to Mozart drunkards, beggars or buggers, wolf-man martyrs or Jesus/ Here’s to lovers, lovers, destitute…”