Originally published at 13thfloor.co.nz
On the eve of Mother’s Day, Wellington musician Thomas Oliver gave us all an early present (including the mums) by stopping in at his hometown on his national tour. The fuss was the release of his first proper album, Floating in The Darkness.
Ok, ‘proper’ is probably not quite the word, given he’s already made a bunch of others, first as part of the Thomas Oliver Band, and then there’s an all-instrumental release from back in 2013 called Beneath the Weissenborn. The Weissenborn, by the way, is a type of lap slide guitar, originally made by Herman Weissenborn in LA back in the 1920’s and 30’s. It’s an instrument Oliver has come to master over the years and we certainly got plenty of chances to see his skills in action tonight.
Most of tonight’s set is from the new work. Oliver starts off slowly with a stripped back version of Tenderly, mainly featuring Oliver on his Weissenborn. On the album, it’s got a bigger sound thanks to his meticulous production standards and fanatical approach. On stage, it’s a little looser and a bit more of a quiet storm than the big soul swell that you get on the CD. I certainly missed the ever-present soul-sister BV’s of Lisa Tomlins but that said Bella Florence does an equally nice job. Her touch is subtler but it suits this live rendition pretty well.
Next up is a very tender ballad, Remember, which is a delicious slow burner. Again, the album version has a certain vibe to it that varies from Oliver’s live version. For the better, in this case, I think. His voice is so pure and sweet, utterly convincing and bordering on goosebumps-inducing at times. But the sweetest, most delicate moment is on one of his older songs Boy – a track that’s been in his tour set for a while now. It tells the tale of growing up and stepping out in the world but unlike many coming of age songs it’s devoid of mushy sentiment. Just more of Oliver’s simple vocals and his guitar.
The band comes to life with the album tracks Shine Like The Sun and Budapest is Beautiful (which was written, incidentally, in that great city). It’s at this time that we get a fleeting visit from flugelhorn player Barret Hocking, who provides some sweet and jazzy brass under this bittersweet love song. They play in support but slowly but surely start to come into the foreground. Ed Zuccollo’s Rhodes-like keyboards are particularly wonderful as they start to pepper each tune, giving everything a slightly ecumenical feel.
After this, Oliver clears the stage and performs a very sensitive take on Bob Marley’s Is This Love, which he originally did for a recent tribute album to the man. It’s very different from Bob’s original, delicately constructed around the melody and unfettered by the usual reggae feel. It works surprisingly well. The audience stands with their mouths open in amazement, savouring every second. Me, too. You can really feel the love.
To break the spell, the band return and knock out the ol’ standard Take Me To The River. Ed gets to put his keyboard through its paces on this one. I was hoping to hear a bit more from his vintage Moog but maybe it needed to cool down.
If that wasn’t impressive then they were just warming up, with the best coming. Bad Talkin’ Man is a simple tune but, done well, it’s a pretty stunning blues jam and Oliver and his band give it they’re all. We get a crazy good solo on the Weissenborn from Mr O followed by funky solos on keys from Ed Zuccollo and then a face-off between drummer Sam Norman and bassist Johnny Lawrence. Just when you think it’s all over they reprise it all and get the audience to join in for another 10 minutes. But no one was checking their watches. We were all too busy wigging out!
Finally, they close it down and finish up with the big single – If I Move To Mars, which they do just as it is on the album. It’s a great tune and works as well live as on the very cool video Oliver made and released last year. The crowd loved it and are shouting at the top of their voices ‘Encore, encore!’ Just as well, as it gives Oliver the chance to bring out his other guest, legendary Kiwi digital music composer Rhian Sheehan, to help out on the trippy finale Let This Be The One. Sheehan adds layer upon layer of guitar is subtle, spacey walls of sound that provide the perfect architecture for this song. It builds slowly to a climax, swirling around Oliver’s simple but clever song lines and yet more sweet vocals.
If you haven’t seen Thomas Oliver yet, there’s still time. Although tonight was sold out, so be quick! Two years ago, he was the one to watch. With a couple of year’s performing in festivals around the world, he’s gained enough stage time to say that he’s now the one you shouldn’t miss! He’s done Aussie, Vietnam, Europe and supported Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Fat Freddy’s Drop. And check out his new album, Floating in The Darkness. Tonight was the first time I’d heard it played live and it’s a keeper, I’d say.