Lawrence Arabia a home grown hero

23:05, Jul 22 2012
Lawrence Arabia
CHARMER: The ubiquitous James Milne is at the helm of Lawrence Arabia.

The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson. Auckland Town Hall has hosted them all, big and small over the past 100 years. And no doubt, most of them have gone down a treat. But there is something to be said for a home grown hero telling tales of the Kiwi way of life in a three minute pop song.

Lawrence Arabia can usually be pinned down to one man: the utterly, awkwardly charming James Milne. But in this, the first official outing (in Auckland, at least) of his new album The Sparrow, it felt like the moniker belonged to not only Milne, but also his band of merry men beside him on stage.

As the troop brought the album to life, the Grand Hall went collectively weak at the knees, awash with luscious four-part harmonies, a driving rhythm section, the sound of musicians swapping instruments like they were swapping something far less difficult, and a string section who peppered it all with something quite perfect for the setting.

And punctuating all of this was, of course, the clever, funny, mesmerising songs of Milne. And they were surprising. You hear them, over and over through headphones or car stereos, and they are obviously lovely. But in a setting as grand as the Town Hall, with a band of young men dressed like 1960s pop stars, their true wit is revealed. Turns out, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Milne has a bit of a lyrical funny bone to go along with a wry vocal delivery.

Dream Teacher, with its cheeky lyrics, had the crowd laughing out loud. But it was songs like the beautiful Bicycle Riding that caused not a soul to move as it unfolded, all piano, strings and harmonies.

It was a shame then, that from the seats looking down onto the cabaret-style tables dotted around the floor, the sound was hollow and empty, at least to begin with.

But as The Sparrow wound its way through to its end, the sound improved, and the audience were well and truly along for the ride. By the time the Silver Scroll-winning Apple Pie Bed came around, you could not stop the audience from jumping up and delivering some of the "embarrassing drunk dancing" the front man kindly suggested. It was as if the room had become the setting for a summer BBQ, all singing and dancing and fun.

Again this show proved just why the Town Hall is a delight, but more importantly, it left a crowd unable to stop smiling, as they ventured into the night.


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