Simon Green – AKA Bonobo – loves NZ, a fact he told us three times during his show last night. It’s one of his favourite countries and he’s been here many times. He’s just never played a show.
The sold-out Auckland Town Hall was crammed with fans who’ve been clamouring to catch him live, and they made their excitement very apparent.
It was an extravagant set-up. The man himself took care of various electronic boxes, sometimes hitting them with a drum stick, often playing bass with one hand while operating devices with the other. There was a drummer, guitarist, and keyboard player, rounded out for much of the set with a string quartet and a brass trio.
Beginning with the slow-burn of 'Migration' and '7th Seven', the transportive, emotional quality of Green’s songs was in full effect even before singer Szjerdene joined the stage for 'Break Apart'. She had an effortless stage presence that was a welcome focal point, with a soothing voice that complimented Green’s songs perfectly.
Midway through the set the group stripped to its core members to focus on more dance-friendly numbers from the Bonobo back catalogue like 'Cirrus', 'Flash Light' and 'We Could Forever'. Migration cut 'Ontario' got a brass-heavy reworking that leaned into its funk edge, and Szjerdene subbed in for Nick Murphy on the epic, trance-inflected 'No Reason'.
But the biggest reaction of the night came when Green started noodling with the Brandy sample that forms the hook of 'Kerala', warping her familiar tones before succumbing to the song’s UK Garage rhythm.
It has to be said that a big part of the appeal of Bonobo records is their intimacy, and the precision of Green’s various beats, whirs and clicks. That was lost somewhat in a live setting, supplanted by the wall of sound that live bands tend to produce. But it was made up for with an increased emotional element, courtesy of a band giving it their all, and clearly having a great time.
Electronic music isn’t usually performed this extravagantly, or in this type of venue. The crowd seemed all too aware of this, relishing the opportunity. They danced with abandon, made a huge amount of noise, and Green seemed genuinely humbled. Big smiles all round.