San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington, November 22
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
Celebrating his 20th anniversary as a solo artist Greg Johnson gave the fans what they wanted: the hits.
Isabelle arrived early on, a sea-shanty made good, bizarre but memorably so – and Johnson was in good voice. It was a long wait for the other hit though.
Liberty eventually arrived and it sounded, well, ho-hum frankly. There were of course other hits but those are the only songs that really had any impact.
Limp-wristed balladry like Don't Wait Another Day and the everyman's sound of Save Yourself show Johnson's strengths and weaknesses – he is a craftsman, capable of showing you, instantly, what a song should look like, sound like, feel like, but there's just not enough personality in the tunes to really make them shine.
Johnson, arguably, sounded as good as he ever did – a great trumpet player, a confident keyboardist, a fine voice – but I don't hear any emotion in his playing or singing.
There's a workmanlike churn to it all. And though he was backed by a fine set of players, Wayne Bell (drums), Mark Hughes (bass), Ted Brown (guitar, harmonica) and Ben King (guitar), veterans, stalwarts, they can only support and serve.
Johnson was once on a level with our greatest players and writers. And after a strong first decade he spent the second decade chasing a hit while running away from New Zealand.
It's all very textbook, painterly, but only in the way that a washed-out watercolour landscape materialises from a photograph after tutelage.
It would be nice to see splashes of colour, risks, mistakes turned into something of value. I wanted to hear excitement.
Instead I heard the hits, both of them – and a bunch of filler masquerading as 20 years of songwriting history.
- © Fairfax NZ News