Ebony Lamb, Kereru New Zealand, 2022

Ebony Lamb

23rd November 2022
Kereru Community Hall, Kereru, New Zealand.

Review by Rob Harbers, photography by Andrew Caldwell.

Returning to the area where she was brought up, Te Whanganui-A-Tara’s Ebony Lamb has successfully kicked off the latest round of Small Hall Sessions, in the intensely rural surroundings of Kereru, deep in the countryside southwest of Hastings.

Following on from the divine sororal harmonies of the Mitchell sisters a fortnight earlier, there may be some who would be intimidated by the prospect of following such a spectacular series, but no such feelings were evident in this performance. A bold and confident Ebony took to the stage and proceeded to enrapture, once more, a select audience, in a show that bodes well for the rest of this run.

The show consisted of two distinct halves, the first being made up of older material from Eb and Sparrow days, including the song unsuccessfully nominated for 2016’s Tui award for Best Country Song (“Liberator”), but which lost out to some crowd called the Warratahs. Other songs played covered country music cliches (“Big Train”), gushing lovesongs in a doo-wop/Big O mashup style (“The Timbers”), and breakup songs (“That Sun”). All while working through a pedal experience described as being “like twiddling knobs and hoping for the best”, to borrow an unintentionally dodgy phrase!

Acknowledgement of external influence came in the form of a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” which also reflected Ebony’s early memories of her father making her call up 93FM (THE Hawkes Bay station in those more innocent times) to request a song by the King (“Any particular one? No, anything is fine”). Aah, reminiscence…

The last song of the first set saw her being joined by the full band (Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa on drums, and Phoebe Johnson on bass) for the Eb and Sparrow number “Working”, which gave a taste of the delights to follow, the second half being one in which all three would be playing.

The second set was made up of songs from the new album. So new that it’s not yet been released, even. Inverting the cliche of releasing an album and then touring it, Eb is touring in any case, and the album is due to drop “sometime soonish” – as she described it, kind of backwards like the last few years! Art imitating the zeitgeist, playing out in the Small Halls of Hawkes Bay – rock’n’roll, baby!

These “new” songs represent not so much a revolution as an evolution, displaying a connection to their predecessors while integrating new textures into the mix. Indeed, some of the material is already familiar to audiences of recent years, having formed part of live sets while the album slowly took shape – but given extra punch from the band format. This was perhaps best exemplified by the additional depth provided to “Drive Me Around”, a song that’s been on the setlist a few years now.

Set among these old new songs, of course, were the new new songs, a shining star among them being “Take My Hands at Night” – maybe the one that most clearly displays the new sound, and would be all over radio if programmers were aware that there’s more coming out of Aotearoa than bands with numbers or fullstops in their names!

Audience interaction was as warm and friendly as is becoming the norm for these intimate gigs, including telling the tale of the worst ever gig – forgetting the songs while playing in a tribute show, under the watchful eye of a critic with a reputation that belies his name. (Let’s just say that he’s no Candyman!) This gave extra spice to her comment “I love that there’s a music critic here catching all this”, after having to restart a song to get herself in time with the band, and to remind herself how to play it. No worries on that score though, this critic loving such human touches, particularly in this context – these are what make it real, after all!

But this critic needs to get his words submitted – time, and editors, wait for no one it is said. So ending with a familiar entreaty – you’ve got four nights left to catch one of these gigs, so you really should! Leave the Netflix and the couch at home, and come to a live show near you. Drinks and dinner provided also, at very reasonable prices! Details at www.smallhallsessions.co.nz

Were you there at the Kereru Community Hall for this intimate gig? Or have you seen Ebony Lamb perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only.

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