Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tiny Ruins & Artisan Guns – 18th June 2011, The Wine Cellar, Auckland

Having failed to get tickets for the Tiny Ruin’s album launch the night before it was a relief to find a second night had been arranged due to popular demand. As was expected the dilapidated sofas of the Wine Cellar’s back room were overflowing and it was standing room only by the time Artisan Guns set got going. Despite having sacrificed their headline show to accommodate the demand for Tiny Ruins it was clear that crowd were here as much for them as for the next band.

 Artisan Guns

A mismatched looking bunch of grungy, hipster, skater chic with a Jason Schwartzman look-a-like, channelling the wobbly headed joy of Mickey Dolenz on drums. The look, or lack of it offered a relaxed stage presence which was complimented by the sometimes uncomfortable inter-song banter, private jokes and throw away lines mumbled into or often off the microphone which set off small ripples of laughter from the front rows, but were often lost by the time they reached us at the back. Beach Boy harmonies with a Steve Malkamus drone and loose but confident musicianship combined the slacker attitudes of the 60’s and 90’s together with genuine warmth and charm. Clearly worthy of the headline show they were originally scheduled for Artisan Guns are way above the indie pop label they are bound to be stuck with, cerebral, witty and warm, they are what all those “generation x” garage bands of the 90’s could have been if only they had possessed some self awareness and a sense of humour. 

In true Wine Cellar style, Tiny Ruins (Hollie Fullbrook) had to wait for one of the members of Artisan Guns to replace her on door duties before she could start setting up for her performance. This extended change over gave me an opportunity to queue for the one men’s toilet available and check out the newly re-furbished bar. Whilst it looks more open and cleaner it has reduced the beer options to two choices or bottles. For a pint drinker this is most distressing, but with a name like The Wine Cellar I'm not sure what I I was expecting beer in the first place.

 Tiny Ruins photo by Georgiebird

Before the show began I had no expectations, I had been persuaded to attended by a friend and when I asked “What are they like? “ the only answer offered was “Mellow”. It was Saturday night and I hadn’t been out for a while, a couple of glasses of red at home and a few quick beers during Artisan Guns set had not geared me up (or down) for “mellow”. Mentally I was prepared to listen to three songs, give them a chance, then make my excuses and go to the bar, I was fidgety and impatient. Then Hollie started singing and for the next 45 minutes I only moved when requested to by someone trying to squeeze their way to the toilet. A singing voice that is a warm soulful blanket of lazy vowels and a Joanna Newsome meets Emily Smith accent silenced the crowd for the entire set. Her unique vocal charms are enough to add depth to what could be a twee fest of singer-songwriter self indulgence. But the dark accompaniment from the band and clever lyrical journeys push this even further away from anything remotely saccharine. Alex Freer (the same Schwartzman look-a-like from Artisan Guns) dispensed with his Monkees impression, and sat still and controlled occasionally keeping time on tambourine and bass drum or, with the help of the bands beautiful and subtle bassist, built atmosphere and added darker, deeper shades with the marching bass drum by his side.

References to Southland and road trips conjured up images of some the stunning scenery New Zealand has in abundance whilst references to the true stories of a South American priest’s ballooning exploits and ballet dancing traffic cops in Eastern Europe reveal a taste for the absurd and an eye for the inspiring and comic moments often missed in a world filled with news of tragedy and disaster.

Beautiful, distracting and charming, from the first note to the last my initial fears of being bored by mellowness were banished and replaced by the involuntary, and possibly gormless grin of a person completely transfixed. I was so distracted that my beer remained almost untouched until the end, a rare achievement indeed!   

Check out Tiny Ruins here:

Check out Artisan Guns here: