Final dose of culture before the summer holidays kick in and I spend most of my time outdoors exploring the less populated parts of New Zealand. Been a busy end to the year filled with gigs, award ceremonies, theatre, cinema and art.
You can tell when summer is coming in New Zealand by the increase in international bands playing. Biggest of which were Coldplay, filling out Mt Smart with an impressive show, aided by audience LED wristbands. The view from the cheap seats at the back of the South Stand was pretty epic.
The music wasn’t quite as epic though unfortunately, demonstrating how far they have come from their first three albums into the world of pop. Top marks for their diversity and energy, which I could admire, but it didn’t move me.
I enjoyed more (in places) Ben Harper the previous night at Vector Arena. It was a pretty hit and miss show but when things came together, such as the bass v lap guitar off on Faded, and on Diamonds on the Inside, it was great. Which unfortunately was only for about half the show.
A similar success rate was found at The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary concert at ASB Theatre. It was rather tenuously linked to the original though the promoter and an aged member of The Band (Garth Hudson), who appeared on a few songs. It was mainly a chance for New Zealand finest alt-country stars to belt out classics by The Band and others. Show opener Up On Cripple Creek sent shivers up my spine but the effect soon wore off unfortunately, and I lacked the energy or interest on a week night to stay through the second half till midnight.
Almost completely forgettable were James at the Powerstation. Handicapped by the venue’s ridiculous stage times, with the show starting at 9.45pm, I soon lost the energy to stay. I’d loved seeing them fifteen years ago but clearly my tastes have moved on.
A highlight of the month was visiting the beautiful, and shamefully underused Mercury Theatre, the original home of Auckland theatre. I’d been invited by Boosted, the excellent arts focused fund raising site, through which I’ve supported a number of shows.
It was a great opportunity to see the Mercury, met a few new people, and enjoy a variety of arts, from photography to theatre, the Modern Maori Quartet to poetry slam (learning how to finger click appropriately).
Auckland Art Gallery is hosting a huge exhibition on Lindauer, famous for his Maori portraits. It was an impressive show but I came away with a reduced appreciation tbh, something about learning more diminishing the sense of magic about the portraits, particularly when I learnt that some were painted over photographs.
For some reason I didn’t take any photos of the Lindauer exhibition but I did take some of the underwhelming Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation exhibition, though I did like the concept behind a personalised song being sung to someone in one of the pieces.
I’m more of a fan of New Zealand Modernism, typified by Colin McCahon. Also great to see Jacob Epstein’s Torso in Metal from the ‘Rock Drill’ back on display.
‘Tis the season for awards ceremonies. I felt somewhat out of place at the New Zealand Arts Awards, insufficiently wealthy, well connected, or old enough. It was great though to see the contribution of people involved in the arts recognised with $480k of prize money awarded, including Eleanor Catton and Taika Waititi. Shed 10 is always a joy to visit, brilliant reuse of an historic building, unusually far more impressive on the inside than the outside.
More my scene was the Auckland Theatre Awards, though fancy dress made recognising people challenging at times. Another beautiful venue, been to some nice places this month, in the Wintergardens, at the bottom of the mighty Civic.
On my way there passed the Lego Christmas tree in Aotea Square, quirky if smaller than expected.
Strong end to the year at the cinema as usual, with four of the ten films I saw making my best cinema of 2016. Two that would have been worthy but seen too late were The Founder, the fascinating story of the birth of McDonalds, and One More Time With Feeling, an emotive and compelling Nick Cave documentary.
Theatre has started to quieten down for the summer, but ended on the usual high at the Basement, with their eighth Christmas show, The Opening Night Before Christmas. As usual there is a special guest every performance. I saw it with the awesome Olivia Tennet, who coincidentally I saw in last year’s Christmas show, Jesus Christ Part Two.
Compared with the three previous Basement Christmas shows, the show this year maintained the same levels of comic genius, it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen all year, but brought for the first time real heart and characters you care about, a winning combination.
Finally I made my eleventh trip to Wellington (excluding work related ones), finding yet more new places to explore, it’s the perfect weekend break city.
The New Zealand Portrait Gallery has a quit brilliant exhibition currently on, Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and The Group, which was eight years in the making destined for the Christchurch Art Gallery, only for the devastating earthquakes to strike a week before the show opened. I’m a big fan of Rita Angus and her contemporaries, and their stylised portraits.
Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace was her childhood home until the age of five, a pretty standard house of the era, though very few survive. More interesting was the documentary on show inside, she packed a lot into a short life.
Porirua isn’t on most Wellington travel itineraries but is well worth making the twenty minute train journey to visit the Pakata Art + Museum, home to some good exhibitions, housed in a rather attractive building, complete with random Japanese garden!
Porirua train station also has some pretty cool murals.
Finally I headed further along the Kapiti Coast to walk the 9.5km Paekakariki Escarpment Track, a scenic and very convenient walk, with a train station at either end of it. Thankfully after horizontal rain the previous day (a Wellington speciality, making umbrellas obsolete and having an effect similar to walking through a car wash) the sun made a brief appearance for the hour I spent along the highest part of the track.