Last night, The Wine Cellar transformed into an antipodean answer to New York’s Gaslight Café with the performances of Will Wood, Tourettes, and Tom Cunliffe. Their performances echoed those that took place in the bastion of the counter-culture movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Performing to a sold-out crowd, this trifecta of acts proved that the combination of heartfelt folk songs and acerbic spoken-word poetry remains a potent creative force in the 21st century.
The constantly metamorphosing Will Wood was up first. Having previously seen him in the punk outfit Parents, the first five minutes were an unnerving listen as this reviewer adjusted to the unflinchingly personal lyricism and nuanced finger-picking. Once this unease had settled, it was a beautiful, keenly felt set that drew heavily on his latest record Magpie Brain and Other Stories, an album that is intimate yet universal in its themes.
Beginning with just himself and his guitar, Wood steadily built up the depth of his sound, inviting a bevy of performers onstage with him as his set progressed. The inspired addition of vocalist Reb Fountain to several songs evoked the dynamic of Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan circa Desire, while Hopetoun Brown’s Nick Atkinson’s performances on saxophone and clarinet added the perfect backdrop to Wood’s mournfully witty brand of raconteourship.
Wood has been touring with Tourettes, who is one of the finest wordsmiths currently creating in New Zealand. Having made his name in the hip-hop community, he has released a glut of truly excellent albums and more recently, a debut novel which he drew on in last night’s spoken word performance. The combination of Wood and Tourettes together harps back to the Gaslight Café, where folk artists performed alongside Beat poets, each espousing their existential angst with breath-taking eloquence.
Throughout his set Tourettes railed against the government and nepotism, shone a spotlight on his heart, and sneeringly mocked national pride and our penchant for rugby. Like Wood before him, his sincerity and biting sense of humour enamoured the audience.
The final act of the night was Tom Cunliffe who was celebrating the release of his debut album Howl and Whisper which was recorded at New Zealand’s mecca of folk music Lyttleton Records. Overall he took a much more traditional approach to folk music than the previous two acts, offering a timely counterpoint. Raucous ballads that told the tale of a mining disaster were juxtaposed against hauntingly innocent songs such as Just Kids and Cunliffe’s lilting voice rarely faltered.
A rousing rendition of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic was a highlight of the set. The evening ended with all of the artists onstage radiating a joyous energy as they led the audience through several rambunctious song choices. It was a fitting end to a scene that relies so heavily on each other for support. Lyricism and storytelling delivered without a shred of posturing was at the heart of every performance last night, making for an engaging, humorous and sometimes poignant evening.