Teddy Swims at Spark Arena, Auckland: review with photos

It’s a commonplace for artists visiting Aotearoa to tell audiences how much they love New Zealand. There’s a spectrum, from Stevie Nicks appearing not to realise that we’re not actually the same country as Australia at one end, and Ed Sheeran wearing a black rugby shirt with the name Lomu across the back shortly after lost the great All Black at the other.

Teddy Swims at Spark Arena, Auckland

And then there’s Teddy Swims. Teddy—Jaten Dimsdale to his mum—holds this country in greater regard than any other visiting singer I think I’ve ever heard. Every chat he had with the audience between songs during last night’s sell-out show at Auckland’s Spark Arena involved some variation on themes of “I fuckin’ love you,” “You’re my best friends,” and ” You saved my life, New Zealand.”

And his affection for this country, and his audience last night, was apparent in the show he put on. A large man with a large voice, Swims isn’t given to theatrics on stage—he doesn’t strut, doesn’t dance, but sings with the power and strength that his magnificent voice delivers. Set opener Goodbye’s Been Good To You was a hard-driver, what Rag’n’Bone Man might sound like if he decided to try a couple of Lynrd Skynrd covers, while 911 was entirely more funky, All That Really Matters big and bombastic and wave-your-arms-in-the-air. Devil In A Dress opened with a mini drum solo from DeAndre Hemby, while the rest of Freak Freely, Swims’ backing band, rocked out with some serious intensity.

Which made the slower numbers—Amazing, for example, or Growing Up Is Getting Old—a little disappointing. Without the band, without the big arrangements, the songwriting is a little uninspiring, a little low-energy.

But the audience didn’t care. Swims started out as a covers act, and so it’s not entirely surprising that the biggest cheers of the night, the loudest audience singalongs, were for a couple of covers. Shania Twain’s You’re Still The One was exceptionally well-received. And Swims’ affection for New Zealand, and his audience, was quite apparent and authentic. He, and the band, all wore All Blacks jerseys, albeit under very faded denim jackets. And—ABs fan that he clearly would like to be—he told us he made sure “we” had beaten England earlier that evening in Dunedin. A visit to the pit during Amazing saw Swims embracing a young woman at the front of the audience, and then gifting her his hat. It could have been awkward, creepy even, but by this stage it simply felt sweet.

Swims seemed concerned about his audience’s wellbeing. Set closer Bed On Fire had to be paused and re-started while he attended to an audience member in the front of the crowd who was in distress; on the other hand, his monologues about self-care and taking care of your mates and keeping them hydrated and keeping toxic people out of your life did start to meander and become a tad tiresome.

Swims could have been forgiven almost anything by his crowd last night after the other cover song he performed last night. He started his career singing other people’s songs on YouTube, and after Kiwi fans made him famous he returned the favour with his version of Rivers, by “one of the greatest fuckin’ bands of all time,” Six60. So it wasn’t entirely surprising that he would play the song last night, a song that “we only play this when we get back here.” What was a little less expected was Matiu Walters, the song’s original singer, joining Swims and band on stage to play it. I’m not sure there’s a better endorsement for a cover version.

Teddy Swims, quite clearly and honestly, adores New Zealand. It was fairly obvious on the strength of last night’s show that the feeling is mutual.

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