Bic Runga & Shane Nicholson @ The Basement (08/08/06)

It is quite mellow in The Basement tonight; Bic Runga’s second gig in an array of four this week, draws a blended crowd of business types and mature conservatives.  Many seem to be here for the ultimate Basement experience – a scrumptious three course meal, fine wine, and some soothing ambiance in the form of a majestic Bic Runga.  So where are the Bic fanatics you may ask? Well, ‘they came last night’ according to a slim petite Investment Banker in her mid 30s nursing her fourth chardonnay. 

Around the room there are several NZ accents to be heard amongst a plethora of Aussies discussing everything from the rareness of their steak to the growing economy of 3rd world countries.  Not the usual conversational pieces that one would usually expect to hear preceding a concert.  But then again, there can be noted a connection between these conversations and what Bic Runga aims to convey via her lyrics… raw honesty in everyday life.

Noting that tonight’s gig is sold out, along with every one of Bic’s gigs here this week, the place does fill out to the max.  Whilst the queue at the bar runs ten deep and the seated guests enjoy their desserts, support act Shane Nicholson enters the stage, merlot in one hand, acoustic guitar in the other. As whispers of Kasey Chambers dash across the audience, the popular country music singer’s husband’s challenge is to engulf the room with appreciation of his own musical prowess.

His introduction comes via the form of a song written in an LA hotel room entitled Revolution Now.  The brooding tune of distant love and emotive pain portrays the artistry of a tortured soul with a deep lusting for melancholy.  This song sets the melodious tone of his folk-pop performance, with hotel room lyrics in abundance.  Shane’s live performance can be described as a little bit country, and very much in the vein of live performances of Alex Lloyd and Neil Finn.  This, combined with a subtle yet polished Kurt Cobain angst, each song is sung with maturity and clarity.

The compassion of his audience is assumed via the delivery of despondent and forlorn lyrics such as ‘I could be a stranger and never know your home’ and ‘I could be a song that never plays a tune’.  The vast arrays of single women are enthralled, wanting to mother him.  Shane holds the attention of the room during the majority of the set, but falls short due to the repetition of his subject matter and melancholy.  Even the beautifully sung Paul Kelly track denotes an air of sadness’…but I look so fine and feel so low’.  By the end of the set, the mundane conversations of the crowd become the forefront once again.

Shane Nicholson forfeits the stage leaving the audience impressed with his musical talent, but a little dejected and aching for the uplifting atmosphere that Bic Runga is destined to provide. 

Enter Bic. Here is woman who does not need an elaborate entrance onto the stage to gain the audience’s attention, her graceful accession to the acoustic guitar and microphone is enough.  Opening the set with a cover of a 1920’s blues number, ‘Last Kind Word’ is a worthy choice.  The heart and soul in this song alone sends shivers up your spine.

With no apparent format to tonight’s show, she plays a few jazz inspired songs from her latest album Birds, and then asks the audience for requests.  There is no set-list.  Welcome to ‘Bic Runga by request’.   

The one thing that is evident over all else during tonight’s performance is that she is not merely a singer/songwriter, but is an outpost for musical and poetic celebration.  Her body acts a temple, as each song is performed by her inner being and demands our attention.  She does not embody the technical perfection of Shane Nicholson in her voice or flawless instrumental technique, and makes the occasional mistake.  This is not, however detrimental to her performance, but in fact it does quite the opposite.  This rawness is the very thing that allows her audience to delve deeper into the layers of her songs to become part of her performance. 

Highlights include the magnetic and uplifting ‘Get Some Sleep’, the soothing course of ‘Beautiful Collision’, and the very soft and heartfelt current single ‘Winning Arrow’.  Her most popular song ‘Sway’ receives several requests throughout the night.  However, this is the song that she holds back for her finale, the anticipation creating the biggest applause from the crowd.  There is a short encore before she finishes off the night with an endearing performance of ‘Election Night’.

It is evident that Bic Runga seeks out inspiration, truth and honesty in a live performance.  That being the case, she would have left The Basement tonight not feeling disappointed, as too her fans.  New Zealand should be proud.