Twenty-four hours after the appearance of Courtney Marie Andrews at the same venue two more young female artists turning industry heads both grace the stage at Whelans. Equally encouraging is the impressive attendance for both evening’s shows, a welcomed reassurance that emerging acts are not going unnoticed.
Tonight’s double act features Nadia Reid and Julie Byrne, both having released albums earlier this year to positive reviews and both signed to the Basin Rock record label. However, the comparability ends there. Label mates they may be but their music, styles and personalities are from different ends of the scale. In classroom vernacular Byrne might be seated in the front row, attentive and impeccably behaved with visions of an academic career on the horizon. In contrast Reid would most likely be at the back, restless, disruptive and questioning, possibly firing paper bombs at the front row and counting down the days until she could break out and pursue a more challenging and nomadic lifestyle.
Slipping quietly on to the stage Byrnes demeanour in keeping with her song writing is laid back, wistful, somewhat anxious and unhurried, almost as if she would prefer not to be noticed. Seated throughout her set she expresses her delight at playing at ‘the legendary’ venue and adds that her father is Irish before starting her set with Sleepwalker and Follow My Voice, both from her latest album Not Even Happiness. Her vocal is low pitched, disciplined and relaxed, complimenting her delicate guitar playing. Welcoming her close friend Taryn Miller on stage to accompany her on Korg Mini Moog she continues with Melting Grid from the same album before visiting her debut album with the track Prism Song. Towards the end of her set she asks for the house lights to be dimmed and appears more comfortable on the darkened stage introducing Natural Blue. Her final song I Live Now As A Singer is inspired by travel, reflection and self-determination. Byrne possesses the lyrical ability to create dreamy trancelike landscapes even if her material suffers from time to time from possibly being one dimensional.
Nadia Reid’s studio output to date has consisted of her debut album Listen To Formation, Look For Signs, which dealt head on with personal heartbreak and love lost, and her current release Preservation which found Reid growing from her experiences and coming out the other end reconciled, confident and fighting. If Julie Byrne’s set, body language and material could be described as monochrome, Reid’s was in technicolour. With both microphone stands adorned by bunches of pink roses she takes the stage confidently, colourfully attired in a black blouse and matching coloured harem pants, her guitarist and occasional backing vocalist Sam Taylor equally looking the part in a two-piece tailored suit and plastic boot lace neck tie. Picking up her Gretsch guitar she immediately launches into Preservation and The Way It Goes, two obvious crowd pleasers notwithstanding the fact that her vocal is somewhat drowned out by the powerful sound of her guitar. Explaining that she is now performing show twelve of a thirty four date tour – and convinced that it’s actually Thursday rather than Wednesday – she switches to acoustic guitar for Runwayand Right On Time, both delivered beautifully, bringing her vocal out front where it deserves to be.
Reach My Destination she explains was inspired by reaching the rock bottom status of moving back home to her mother’s house in Port Chambers after a relationship breakdown. The song is underpinned by stunning guitar playing by Taylor, matched equally by his playing on Hanson Street, Part 2.
An unfortunate juncture during the performance found Reid, visibly disturbed, having to pause mid song and call out a couple of people that insisted on talking during her performance – why do ‘talkers’ always position themselves upfront – and while succeeding in shutting them up she did appear noticeably unsettled for quite a while before regaining composure. Ruby, Track Of The Time, Hanson Street Part 2 also featured together with an audience request for Richard before closing with The Arrow and The Aim. Reid made a point of thanking her close friend and producer Ben Edwards for the inspiration and encouragement in the recording of Preservation. Interestingly she did not reappear for an encore, possibly still unnerved by the mid set distraction.
Ironically, printed on the flip side of Reid’s hand-written set list at the front of the stage was the following ‘I Want Freedom For The Full Expression Of My Personality – Mahatma Gandhi’. No truer words could sum up the exceptionally talented young New Zealand artist.
Spare a thought for Jim Ghedi, another Basin Rock recruit, who opened the show. The young Sheffield folk singer’s band members failed to make the gig due to transport problems leaving him to borrow equipment and perform solo. Given the trauma he performed remarkably well.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton