Halletau Restaurant/Bar, Riverhead
November 27 | Reviewed by Jacob Powell

THE ROOM is well lit, the crowd small. Kirsten Morell steps uncertainly up to the microphone and invites those at the bar in the room across the way to join us for the start of the show. The now middling crowd stands slightly awkwardly, drinks held close like a security blanket, with a barely perceptible air of anticipation. Without further ado, amps humming to life, Goldenhorse begin to share with us their latest innermost creative thoughts; Reporter is going live...

Geoff Maddock plucks out an instantly captivating riff to open the set (and album) with ‘The Last Train’, a mid-slow paced track showing promise and interest. As the guitars layer and the song builds, Nick Gaffaney’s beat gets into my head, driving like the rhythm of the train in the title. Insistent. Compelling. And this, alongside Morrell’s ethereal vocals, is what kept me moving and smiling throughout the evening. Reporter has a sense of insistent movement across its track listing; Goldenhorse are going on a journey and it is not a difficult decision to head along with them.

For those not familiar with the venue, Hallertau is a bar/restaurant located in the quasi rural setting of Riverhead out in the far Western reaches of Auckland (an apt choice for a Goldenhead Album release party!) A small-medium sized space, the main room is L-shaped with the stage set up in the corner facing an audience split across the two stems of the L. The space lends itself to intimate seated gigs but the floor had been mostly cleared of tables to fit more people, with the majority of punters standing. Thumbs up to the band’s sound tech who managed to achieve a good trade-off between overall volume and individual clarity on a relatively small system and in a room not ideally suited to auditory quality. I noted only one minor slip up, when Maddock came to the mic to vocally lead a song and was well in the background. The sound guy was pretty quick to leap in and tweak his level and all was as it should be again. The only thing he couldn’t really do anything about was the lack bite in the bass guitar sound, which was a shame as Vincent Hine was playing some appealing lines on a few tracks and could have added more interest to the already entrancing rhythm section if they’d had a decent sub setup.

‘Calico Reporter’ cranked in at second on the set list, nicely increasing the tempo and the energy. Unfortunately things got a little derailed heading into track three, ‘Saying My Name’; in fact, it seemed there were a few strange things going on for the band this night. The song started then soon fell apart with looks of surprise from around the band. It appeared that Maddock had forgotten to put the capo on his guitar and hence the key was markedly out. This led to some odd back and forth between band members – particularly Maddock and Morrell (more on that later) – with no-one really managing the crowd whilst they sorted themselves out. When the song finally restarted the atmosphere had totally dipped and it took them until the next track to pull it back.

This was the first in a number of instances which proved that the band haven’t quite perfected this newer material live yet. Overall they played as proficiently as you would expect, but there were the odd missed notes, and dud chord changes to be heard by those who cannot help hearing these things. This was particularly evident when contrasted with the older songs in their brief encore set which were all polished and tight, if occasionally lacking the intensity of their newer material.

Crowd management and song transitions were the weakest part of the evening with only one or two of these feeling comfortable and connected. The oddest part was the developing sense of annoyance between Maddock and Morrell as the night went on. I could have completely misread things but it seemed that he kept making jibes at her that she wasn’t taking as just joking around. Whatever the case actually was, Maddock was somewhat of a minor liability on the microphone between songs as his little comments started detracting from what was otherwise a great show.

As Goldenhorse continued to play through the album, the fairly docile crowd – made up mostly of friends, family, industry types and the odd local celebrity – started to relax. But it wasn’t until Kirsten gave the invitation (about halfway through the set) that anybody was game to get out the front and dance. This opened up the feel of the gig nicely and you could tell Kirsten (at least) fed off the lift in audience energy. Several songs later the set, as with the album, ended with a contribution from newest band-member-turned-songwriter (guitarist Ben King) ‘Change of Heart’. Unfortunately this sounded the least cohesive of the songs on the night; the purposefully discordant feel sounding confused (at least I presume that it was purposeful) and Morell’s usually faultless vocals seeming a bit lost near the start of the song. It was a good thing that Goldenhorse was prepared for an encore as it would have a shame to end such a great gig on a low note.

Returning to the stage, their first song was another new one (but one not from Reporter) which rebuilt enough audience momentum so that the band were successfully prevailed upon to extend their one song encore to finish of with an unrehearsed run of three older hits: ‘Run Run Run’, ‘Wake Up Brother’, and – after a lot of deliberation and talk of not remembering how to play a some of the other older material – ‘Maybe Tomorrow’.

All in all the night was an energetic introduction to Reporter: an album that looks to be a worthy addition to the Goldenhorse discography. It has a slightly darker feel to their earlier material but retains the unique warmth of Morrell’s enchanting vocals underpinning their sound. If you want to catch Goldenhorse live this summer then look out for the upcoming 2008 Winery Tour where they will be performing alongside Anika Moa and Brooke Fraser this coming February.