live review

SJD

SJD

May 22 2015
MOON, Wellington

Reviewed by Natalie Finnigan
25th May 2015

At about 8.30pm on Friday night Moon seemed to be splitting at the seams. The Newtown venue, where SJD was playing to celebrate the release of his seventh album Saint John Divine, was spilling an eclectic mix of people on to the street - most of whom appeared to be escaping the heat inside for as long as possible until the main act started.

Opening act Luke Rowell, better known for his ample body of work as Disasteradio, was performing under the moniker Eyeliner. I must confess I've never understood his shtick and found the set irritatingly self-referential and kitsch. Maybe if I was high on something it would make better sense to me? But once he'd finished posing and playing, SJD and his band took to the stage with little formality or fanfare and launched into 'Cat's Eyes', instantly demonstrating the remarkable skill and experience of everyone on stage.

Next was another Saint John Divine number, 'Little Pieces' - a stunner of a song with strong pop sensibilities and so much feeling (the album version features vocals from Julia Deans). This was followed by 'Southern Lights' from their 2004 album of the same name, and 'Bad Karma' and 'Change the Channel' from their 2007 album Songs From A Dictaphone.

Donnelly’s mid-song banter was mostly limited to comments about the behaviour of certain audience members. I couldn't quite tell whether he was joking or not, but at one point he asked for one particularly persistent heckler to be removed after the showgoer repeatedly called out for some “new Metallica”. It shouldn't go that far really, should it? Or am I too precious? I'm yet to make up my mind as to whether it's a total waste of time being annoyed by the behaviour of other people at a show in a bar.

After also having to ask two very loud, obnoxious drunk women in the front row to be quiet, the band brought us back to the present with 'Unplugged', another selection from Saint John Divine, which was awe-inspiring. This song is a perfect example of the beautiful composition featured on the record - each song is so subtle in it's complexity. Many of the songs follow a similar, brilliant formula in which they start delicately, then are gradually layered and built up to spine tingling crescendos, before being stripped right back to their bones again.

The synchronicity displayed by the band was a thing of beauty, and the harmonies are particularly impressive both recorded and live. Sandy Mill is a goddess: an amazing vocalist and brilliant percussionist whose timing and ear for the space in a song is so in synch with Donnelly's that it never conflicts with the tone or overly complicates things.

After working through a few more numbers they finished the set with 'I Am The Radio.' Many audience members took the opportunity to get a little freaky at this point and some brilliant Dad dancing was displayed. At the conclusion of the set, the band received polite but not rapturous applause, which was strange because it was such a stellar performance. But I suspect that was partially due to the fact that the band were captive on stage, and would have had to make their way through the crowd to leave, due to a lack of a backstage area. So after a quick negotiation between Donnelly and the front row it was determined that a three song encore would take place. It was all quite cute.

My first experience of a SJD live show confirmed my theories on Donnelly's approach to his artistry - he is thoroughly committed to authenticity, both as a person and a performer. He writes genuine, beautiful songs, says what he means, performs with no airs, and seems to be able to take the crowd as they come. In this sense, the performer and audience were well matched because SJD were definitely treated to an authentically Newtown lot: eclectic, interesting, and just a little bit crazy.

SJD at Moon featuring: Sean Donnelly (Vocals, Guitar), Victoria Kelly (Vocals, Keyboard), Mike Hall (Vocals, Bass), James Duncan (Guitar), Chris O'Connor (Drums) and Sandy Mill (Vocals, Percussion).



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