Nie! Napier New Zealand, 2022

Nie!

15th November 2022
Paisley Stage, Napier, New Zealand.

Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald. Photography by Ricky Dunphy.

One only need open a newspaper, or one’s bank statement for that matter, to know that times are hard. There is an inescapable whiff of soviet era austerity to the zeitgeist that, left to fester, might invite despair. But the duty of the artist is to hold a mirror to society, and perhaps offer some respite.

This is the inspiration for Nie!, the latest brainchild of prolific Hawke’s Bay composer, performer and all round avant garde savant, Anton Wuts. Ostensibly in klezmer revival style, fused with elements of glam rock and punk, Nie! mashes together a motley crew of accomplished musicians to produce something completely different.

Arahi, of local and increasingly national renown for both his solo and collaborative work, shreds on guitar. Garageland and, more recently, YesYesNo’s Anthony Flack holds down the bassline. Wuts’ fellow Revolutionary Arts Ensemble member, Joe Dobson, keeps the beat. New addition, Amanda M guests on trombone, beefing up the bass. The seemingly ubiquitous (Deep Fried Funk, Soul Choir, Foxglove, I could go on…) Ella Polczyk juggles clarinet, vocals and saxophone.

Not literally. This apparently obvious distinction must be made in this case as this is a band, an experience, in which anything could happen. Known locally for pushing boundaries, Wuts is a man who has been seen to play a saxophone in each hand, whose past shows have included piñatas and swings, dancing girls and rampaging monsters.

This show’s low brow hook is an envelope of diverse insults from around the world, provided to each prospective participant at the door with the invitation to heckle to their heart’s content. There’s a stack, thirty-three in total, translated from a plethora of languages including Afrikaans (I hope your fingers change into fishing hooks and you get an itch in your balls) and Italian (Why don’t you all shit in your hands and slap yourself in the face); Malaysia (You guys sound like you walk behind your boss and reach through his legs and support his testicles) and Hebrew (Why don’t you all go and masturbate to a picture of a dog).

It’s tremendous fun. There’s something wonderfully freeing about yelling obscenities, charmingly childish. Of course the quirky bar staff take it too far, penning their own personalised critiques between furious dancing and cracking the occasional beer. But we’re all friends here. By design. It’s a gig that consciously brings people in, belying a socialist ethos that permeates the humour.

With themes such as selling your kidney to buy cheese, toilet paper hoarding, the feeling of finding $20 in your pants pocket, grassroots politics, the fetishisation of world leaders, the mindless monotony of living hand to mouth, anti-globalisation and overdosing on ibuprofen, the sobering content juxtaposes wonderfully with the method of delivery. Indeed, Nie! is a masterclass of engagement, articulating what every thinking feeling person knows to be true and injecting it with a healthy dose of the absurd. Punchy choruses such as ‘Eat, Shit, Sleep, Work,’ ‘Ukraine for the Ukranians,’ and ‘Fuck Me,’ the latter chanted by the crowd in two parts to Wuts’ conduction, arms everywhere like a deranged human metronome, add to the anthemic nature of the tunes. Together with the radical subject matter and the anarchic spirit in the air, these accentuate the unlikely punk rock flavour to the klezmer sound.

Lest this all sounds a bit art-student-wanking-into-a-cup, please be assured that this offering is as musically adroit as it is a conscious social commentary. With the exception of a truly strange reworking of Grease’s Hopelessly Devoted to You, in which Wuts warbles as though Olivia Newton John were possessed by the spirit of Oscar the Grouch, these are original compositions, albeit some inspired by old masters. Nothing about these tunes is simple, as evidenced by the ubiquitous music stands and the concentration on the musicians’ faces. The rapport between Wuts and Polczyk at the front is reflected in how well all of these artists play together, even when they make a self confessed mess. At times Polczyk’s pitch perfect, pure, powerful vocals play straight man to Wuts’ guttural bark, but she has a devilish glint in her eye, a mischievous streak of her own. They converse with clarinets, chasing each other around the echelons of the minor keys. The big band sound ranges from moody to frenetic, rich and evocative. It’s the kind of music that grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you loose of your moorings. It’s unpredictable and exciting, the perfect antidote to the objectively dour outlook of our time. In Wuts’ words, “All these songs are a bit miserable but we inject them with such joy that you won’t leave depressed.

Were you there at Paisley Stage for this great musical gathering? Or have you seen Nie! perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:

I

  • Nadia’s Theme
  • Poverty
  • Holistic Stocktake
  • Chasm (pronounced “ka-zm”)
  • Panic Buying
  • Moon
  • Hopelessly Devoted
  • The Cerebral Constitution
  • Fuck Me

II

  • …and Now Summer Has Left
  • Odd Ballet
  • It’s the Economy, Stupid
  • If You Have No Aunt
  • Untouched
  • Japanese Trees
  • Household (with Not Today Old Friend)
  • Ukraine for the Ukranians
  • Pyty Pyvo

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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