Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra: Be Mine Tonight Tour Review

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra: Be Mine Tonight Tour Review

It was Auckland's turn to host New Zealand's premiere touring troubadors of the ukulele variety.

In the relatively intimate surroundings of the Winter Garden at Auckland's Civic Theatre, bathed in a stage of red light to match the red carpet, there was an inter-generational buzz awaiting their arrival.

From the young to the very old, everyone was here to have a good time as the band continued its Be Mine Tonight tour in support of their first ever full album release.


With expectancy at a poised fever pitch, the band doled out 7 rules over the speakers before filing out in front of everyone and launching into their cover of Brooke Fraser's Something in the Water. You know what to expect most of the time with the WIUO (no bad thing) - lush harmonies, beefed up choruses and a damn good time. The child in the front row whose feet couldn't touch the ground was having a damn good time - because I saw her little spindly legs rocking back and forth the moment the band struck up.

But as the group took in a smattering of some of their old faves and select tracks from the new LP with their usual charisma-filled performance, there seemed to be something slightly different about them this time.

Sure, there was electricity in the air - but it was also there on stage with some howling feedback affecting the end of a couple of their songs (Team by Lorde and Jezebel were slightly hit by it) - and more surprisingly, there were a few electrical instruments - an electric uke here, a guitar there. For the couple of purists next to me in the audience who'd come to lap up the stripped back harmonies and rousing simplicity of the singalongs, it was a bit of a shock.

However, it represents the growth of the band and to be honest, howls aside, it didn't dampen any of their enthusiasm for their onstage antics, their boundless energy and their ability to awaken the joy in your belly and send it on its way to your face.

After Raylene, Jezebel, some Afternoon Delight, Wake Up, an almost gospel like Happy by Pharrell, a tour to Tahiti and Hawai'i, the first half concluded with their frankly anthemic version of David Kilgour's Today's Gonna Be Mine ( a song which gives me goosebumps every single time I hear it) that left the crowd reeling and hoping the interval was nothing more than a brief interlude.

A second half saw a couple of surprises and ensured the Civic's builders were going to be needed to deployed after the roof was raised.

Shorty Street star Amanda Billings and long time secret band member is touring with the WIUO this time and stepped up to the plate for E Ipo; as did Th'Dudes' star Peter Urlich to shake his money maker on their cover of Be Mine Tonight, which concluded with a stunning solo from band member Steven to rapturous applause.

It was here really that the band completely found their groove, won over the crowd and ensured the second half would send us all into the stratosphere. Following up with heart-felt and singalong fave Heartache, the always theatrical and expressive Andy led the audience to a fervour before Gemma and Age gave us a Second Chance to remember.

Clothed in cricket whites, Age's lead on Howzat (whose chorus always reminds me of the UK Pearl and Dean cinema intro) had an energy and vitality which was contagious; a kid invasion accompanied Megan's next turn on stage and showed why the band has such a universal appeal before Sam, replete in self-made onesie, gave us a 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover that led to cheers from within the growing rabble on the floor.

Choosing to end with Counting The Beat (and getting Peter Urlich back on stage was a master-stroke for the second half (like David Kilgour was in the first) because it summed up the essence of what the WIUO does when it's on fire. They get you up on your feet, singing along, and dancing like crazy thanks to their contagious and infectious energy, sending you out into the world with a joy in your heart.

The WIUO are a clever bunch; they always leave you wanting more and this time was no exception (even if the second half felt a little stronger than the first); as a group of friends and musicians, they've got the mix completely right and the new album shows they're heading on a slightly different path without forgetting their roots.

When it comes to their live shows, you'd have to be a real grouch to leave with a frown on your face - and I don't believe there's such a thing as a bad WIUO show (certainly from what I've experienced before); the band's growing in musical depth and performance as tonight's show demonstrated.

That's no bad thing at all - jump on the WIUO bus; their destination is Good Times, via stop-offs for Singalong, Grin Central and Charisma city. It's a musical journey you won't forget.

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