Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Concert at Starkwhite

Dean Roberts and collaborators: Red Memory song cycle
15 April, 2009 @ 8.15 pm

This unusual event, a forty-five minute recital played by five musicians, held the attention of a large crowd in the big downstairs gallery at Starkwhite. Dean Roberts strummed acoustic guitar while singing his brooding turbulent lyrics, backed by cello (Paul Williams), another singer (Mathew Sunderland) and two drummers (one of them, Chris O’Connor). They presented a sinuous and elegantly arranged pop music infused with the avant-garde sensibilities of Wire magazine

Robert’s voice is light and sweet, but not saccharine – between Nick Drake and Cat Stevens. He is not a crooning growling torch song singer with power and theatrics like Nick Cave, a neurotic whiner and splutterer like David Thomas, nor a strangled, choking throat-clencher like Bonnie 'Prince’ Billy. His vocal phrasing presents a calmness and serenity that belies the churning resentment of his written expression.

That is the point. The rhythms and pacing of his tunes are very measured. With this meticulous control you get a constant sense of restraint – a pulling on the reins. Only towards the end of the cycle did the pace increase. With histrionics and frenzy creeping in Sunderland and Roberts then turned up the volume.

This only happened right at the end. For a group with two drummers the sound was wondrously delicate and understated. William’s cello provided a great foil to Roberts’ guitar, but never dominated. Dramatically lit by a single bedside lamp on the floor, these five amazingly gifted individuals made it an aural event to remember.

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