Dave Dobbyn at The Cauldron, Spark Arena—it’s good to be back.

When the audience at a concert are having fun, it’s a good sign. When the musicians on stage are having fun, that’s an even better one. Last night’s show at Spark Arena, then, was a very good night out.

Opening for Dave Dobbyn, Milly and the Miltones were having a very good time, and Milly Tabak’s honest, infectious enthusiasm drove a set that was enjoyed by the very few people who bothered to arrive at Spark Arena in time to see her and her band. And lucky they were that they’d taken the trouble—this was a very enjoyable way to kick the evening off. Tabak is as engaging an on-stage presence as I’ve seen in some time—she can sing, of that there’s no doubt, and she writes a bloody good song, too, and her genuine delight at being on a big stage, opening for a big name, was simply brilliant. She’s clearly been listening to her Fleetwood Mac records as she wrote the songs for her new album Honest Woman, and she also clearly enjoyed singing them to a smaller audience than she deserved.

And then to Dave Dobbyn. This show was advertised as being in “The Cauldron;” while this might have oversold things slightly, the theatre-style setup, with audience access to three sides of the stage, did provide an intimate setting you don’t often get at a venue the size of Spark. And it suited Dobbyn. He doesn’t need a big, flashy stage set; he’s enough a fixture of the New Zealand music scene that he can simply get on with playing the songs that his audience—and they were his audience; while Milly and the Miltones played to a largely empty arena, Dobbyn barely saw an empty seat—knew and wanted to hear.

So we got a greatest-hits show, a setlist made of Dobbyn classics. Outlook For Thursday opened the set; Slice Of Heaven, rather inevitably, closed it. In the meantime, we had Guilty, and Bliss, and Devil You Know—this was exactly what we needed. Reminders of where we were were dropped in from time to time, from comments about “slaughtering Australia on the paddock” to remarks about living on “islands in the South Pacific,” Dobbyn reminded us that New Zealand is, almost uniquely in the world, enjoying live music, and so we enjoyed classics like Be Mine Tonight, because they’re great songs and because we could.

And also, of course, because Dave Dobbyn is a great performer. It’s an understated act—standing at the front of the stage, picking his Telecaster and reaching up into his microphone, not quite Liam Gallagher-style but close, and with a top-rate band behind him. HIs voice, still strong and only getting richer as he eases into his 60s, has some echoes of the American greats like Springsteen or Mellencamp, but there’s still an Auckland sensibility to the music, to the singing.

Music is finally coming alive again in Auckland, and last night Dobbyn, Tabak, and their bands made us even more proud than ever to be living in Aotearoa.

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