“We’re The Beths, from Auckland, New Zealand,” announced Liz Stokes at least twice at last night’s Town Hall concert. It wasn’t entirely clear why she had to specify where her band are from; we’re not letting any foreigners into Aotearoa any time soon. But even announcing the name of her band felt redundant—an absolutely packed house for the penultimate show of their Jump Rope Gazers Tour, which wraps up in Gisborne tonight, knew exactly who they had come to see.
The evening kicked off with support acts Disciple Pati, her James Brown influences enjoying a jazzy overlay courtesy of a very effective four-piece horns section, and Mermaidens, Gussie Larkin’s and Lily West’s vocals every bit as strong. But the evening belonged to The Beths.
It was a fairly static show—Stokes, flanked by guitarist Jonathan Pearce and bassist Benjamin Sinclair, stands at a microphone stand to sing, her two wingmen adding harmonies, so there’s limits to the movement they can manage. But all three—Stokes takes the lead-vocal duties, but she’s more than ably supported by the rest of the band—harmonise and play with enough passion and energy that this is a minor quibble. And Pearce, in particular, finds a whole new level of energy when he steps away from his microphone to add some detail from his gold-top Les Paul. Similarly, Auckland’s Town Hall is one of the least rock-and-roll settings in town, even with the paper birds Stokes told us the band had hand-made hanging from the ceiling, but this was not a band that relied on props or stage sets.
Instead, the set list featured, strongly, the band’s new album Jump Rope Gazers, and gave The Beths an opportunity to showcase their vocal harmonies and songwriting, energetic guitar pop quite powerfully underpinned by new boy Tristan Deck’s thundering drumwork. Stokes makes a fine front woman; the audience were already hers before she even took the stage, and she was clearly enjoying their enjoyment. Band introductions that featured the musicians’ choices in the only election that really matters this year, for the New Zealand Bird Of The Year, was just another lovely detail—and, based on audience reaction, a bob each way on the takahē might not be a bad idea.
Along with talent, of course, luck and talent are important for new bands, and both The Beths and Mermaidens have made the most of the opportunities afforded by the current pandemic. In the absence of overseas acts, Kiwi bands have audiences to themselves—audiences who, thanks in no small part to the work of folk like Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, who, I hope, didn’t have to pay for her ticket last night, are now, almost uniquely in the world, able to enjoy live music like it had never gone away. I saw both Mermaidens and The Beths at what could be the last Laneway Festival for quite some time earlier this year, and thought that these were acts to watch out for. Last night’s show suggests that they’re two mature, talented and very entertaining bands, and here in New Zealand we’re lucky we can enjoy them.