Who's the worst singer you've ever heard live?

It’s time to get a bit of a Friday list going. Let’s have a bit of fun. This might seem lazy when you see a whole gig review I wrote for the Dominion Post from 2005 reproduced, but humour me. As you read this I am away – in Wanaka – and had to prepare this early so that the stalwarts could have their regular fix.

I know I have admitted to you when we talked about singing in the shower that I am no kind of decent singer. But I have seen a few people who should really reconsider their career options. I am sure many of you have too. But I have had to sit through some real pain from time to time. On an album it’s not so bad, you skip through it, you move past it, you focus on other things – perhaps the song is good but the singer is not, maybe there is enough happening musically for this to not really matter. But what about when it is live? Sometimes there’s nowhere to look, no way to tune out – and you can’t really walk out when you’re writing a review and the show has been going for five minutes. Or you paid your money so you want to see the show for a bit longer, in full hope of improvements.

Straight away when preparing this topic I thought about the time I was sent to review Wing. It was a singular experience. Read on:

Wing

@ The Mercure, Willis Street

It’s time to get a bit of a Friday list going. Let’s have a bit of fun. This might seem lazy when you see a whole gig review I wrote for the Dominion Post from 2005 reproduced, but humour me. As you read this I am away – in Wanaka – and had to prepare this early so that the stalwarts could have their regular fix.

I know I have admitted to you when we talked about singing in the shower that I am no kind of decent singer. But I have seen a few people who should really reconsider their career options. I am sure many of you have too. But I have had to sit through some real pain from time to time. On an album it’s not so bad, you skip through it, you move past it, you focus on other things – perhaps the song is good but the singer is not, maybe there is enough happening musically for this to not really matter. But what about when it is live? Sometimes there’s nowhere to look, no way to tune out – and you can’t really walk out when you’re writing a review and the show has been going for five minutes. Or you paid your money so you want to see the show for a bit longer, in full hope of improvements.

Straight away when preparing this topic I thought about the time I was sent to review Wing. It was a singular experience. Read on:

Wing

@ The Mercure, Willis Street

Friday July 8; 3pm and 8pm

Wing immigrated to New Zealand “about ten years ago” with her family from Hong Kong. English is - at she points out during her performance - her second language. She has been learning to sing since living in New Zealand, performing in rest homes and hospitals. She has also released several CDs. This has led to her being accepted as something of a “cult-artist” with appearances on Australia’s Rove, the American cartoon series South Park and here in New Zealand on Sports Cafe and as part of the Auckland Festival, AK05. To see Wing perform live is to re-evaluate the idea of musical performance. Wing’s broad repertoire of covers includes material from musical icons the Beatles and Abba and from musicals The Sound of Music and The Phantom of the Opera.

What is immediately (almost unnervingly) obvious is that Wing has a unique voice. She does not sound like any other singer I have ever reviewed. I could never compare her to Joni Mitchell - or Madonna. This concert, held in one of the function rooms of The Mercure hotel, had room for roughly 40 people. Her three o’clock performance was full. Prior to Wing taking the stage, beautiful music from such distinctive voices as Al Green and Ella Fitzgerald bubbled away in the background. A sign of things to come? Actually, the first indicator was the unsubtle fade of Fitzgerald’s voice in order for Wing to take over. She stood on stage; hands clasped, dressed to remind of a Singapore Airlines advert from my childhood, and nervously explained the opening tunes for her “winter concert”. She politely thanked the audience for “turning up in such weather” and stood statue-still, save for blinking eyes, during the instrumental sections of each song. Singing to accompanying backing tracks, Wing kicked off with The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music. Yodelling had a bad name long before Wing made an attempt at it. Memory was next, fittingly, her version is now indelibly etched in to my brain - and, somewhat ironically, she forgot the first word.

People in the front row were starting to chuckle, fortunately they had an A4 sheet detailing the concert’s program. Many used this to avoid looking straight at the stage, bobbing heads began to catch on throughout the audience, as Wing next tackled Phantom of the Opera. To say that she makes these songs her own (generally the ultimate compliment to earn as a song interpreter) is obvious. But certainly Wing even brings new meaning to words, often because of her unique phrasing, as “da phantom of de opera is dere, in sigh my mine” stands to prove. This mid-set highlight featured Wing attempting to, er, soar, evoking a sound that I can only compare to a whistling kettle (and not the variety with a cut-off switch).

Dancing Queen was the victim of a false start, but its disco backing track engaged several audience members in to clapping along. She fumbled across several keys, none of which opened any (musical) doors. Two more selections from Abba followed; I Have a Dream was vividly recreated (the sound of my future nightmares?) And it was pretty rich of her to attempt Money Money Money. At this point I noticed that the program referred to “songs preformed” - either an easy typographical error, or a sly nod to the innovation this artist is capable of. I sat fascinated.

“These next two song I do for AK05”, Wing explained. “And they is from Beatles.” I Wanna Hold Your Hand proved to be a rather high mountain to climb, and All You Need Is Love rolled along with the single-note piano guide track (for Wing to sing on top of) proudly prominent. She has recently recorded AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, I was disappointed at first that we didn’t get to hear it in performance. But, with my free cup of tea in hand (which I felt I’d earned) it could be said that the journey was evoked.

Now, if you have read this far and have not actually heard Wing please do yourself the favour of clicking here for a sample.

I have never seen The Pogues live but I have heard a few appalling live recordings of Shane MacGowan attempting English and not winning the war with language. Some people still maintain that Bob Dylan cannot sing. Or that Lou Reed has a bad voice. There’d be people out there mad enough to think that Marianne Faithfull and Leonard Cohen are “bad” singers.

So, who is the worst singer you have ever heard live? I am thinking not just of terrible singers (Elemeno P’s Dave Gibson) but of drunken performances, jet-lag, flu, whatever other outside influences to impact negatively on a performance…

And unless you were at a BBQ at my parents’ house in the summer of 1996 and you heard me attempt The Beatles’ Blackbird then I know I won’t be on your list.

But who is on your list? Who is the worst singer you have witnessed?