Gig review: Jan Hellriegel in Wellington

03:40, May 24 2010

Recently I posted a preview of Jan Hellriegel's cabaret show at the St James in Wellington. If you go to that link you'll find some helpful background about Jan and her album from last year, All Grown Up. There are links to her previous albums too. But the gig is in the bank now, so let's have a look at how it went.

Jan Hellriegel
Friday, May 21
St James, Wellington

It was Jan Hellriegel's first show in Wellington in over a decade - the tables and chairs were set up for a cabaret show in the mezzanine at The St James theatre. People were happily ordering food and drink in the hour before the show. At 8pm Jan and band took the stage and the audience, instantly, had complete respect for the artists - for the show. There was no distracting glass-clinking and table-chatter.

Hellriegel worked through many of the songs from All Grown Up in the first set - her superb band navigating through pop and rock songs; colouring around the body of the tunes, allowing plenty of space for Jan's voice.

Nick Gaffaney (Cairo Knife Fight, Anika Moa) was a driving force behind the drum-kit, shading in and around the steady groove. Mark Hughes was a rock; his bass playing sitting perfectly in behind the melodic instruments but helping to nudge everything forward. Ben Fulton (Rosy Tin Teacaddy) played tasteful leads, never wasting the opportunities to trace around the melody and to daub in new sonics, proudly serving the song first and foremost with his lead guitar. Michael Larsen (keyboards) and Wayne Bell (acoustic guitar and backing vocals) also - perfectly - served the songs; serving them up and serving them well.

It was a real treat to hear this band - so good on the record - sounding so sharp live, given their occasional status as a unit.

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But for all of the instrumental magic - and there was plenty - it was Jan's show. The audience knew it; the band knew it and you could see that she knew it. She had a role to play and she nailed it. There's an easy charm and beguiling grace to Jan Hellriegel performing live. She owns each song, she actually embodies each song, she climbs up into and lives inside each song for the moments that each exists in live performance. It's almost like seeing a torch singer work as a pop-rock singer. The only issue I have with hinting at that as a description is it suggests acting. And Jan is not an actor. The role she plays is herself-as-singer. She is the song when she sings it.

She might claim - as she does at one point during the show - that the songs are not always about her but, even if that is the case, they still are about her when she performs them. She invests an emotional honesty in to both the writing and performance.

There are many highlights from "the journey" that is All Grown Up; from its opener, 10 Years and 47 Minutes with the light and shade, the mood and groove through to the shimmer of Filled Me Up, Very Mostly Good and Under the Stars.

The second set was started by Jan solo, accompanying herself first on keys and then on guitar. A mid-set highlight live, as on the album, is the dark, dramatic He's Gone. This is where, when reviewing the album, I first thought of Jan as a torch singer.

There are songs from It's My Sin as well - including its title track and The Way I Feel; which has lost nothing in the 15+ years since its release. And Jan attacks it, rather that reluctantly trundling it out. That's because it is - like many of her compositions - a good song. And Jan is a great singer.

Tremble was represented also but the bulk of the show came from All Gown Up. The sets were beautifully built - the finale of Goodbye Adieu, the final track on All Grown Up cascades with Beatles-esque melodies; the song has a huge climb in it - taken as a single track it is a microcosm of everything that Jan has held back from the world for the last decade and a bit; the song bursts with flashes of brilliance. It is a near-perfect pop construction. And seeing Jan and her band bringing the All Grown Up songs to life reminded me that Hellriegel is a special voice in New Zealand music.

It was a great style of show too - the cabaret seating. The St James has some more cabaret shows over the coming weeks. Click here for details.

So, did you go to the show? And if so what did you think? Or did you wish you could go, but weren't able to? Would you go next time? And do you like these cabaret-styled shows? Will you go to others?

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