Somehow I have never found myself at the Sawmill Cafe for a gig, despite the best intentions it’s always been easier to see the band in Auckland. Man have I missed out, the Sawmill Cafe is the place to be. From the wooden beams that make up the ceiling to the elevated stage, the beer and pizza, it has all the required elements. 

Tom Cunliffe took to the stage first, alongside his band, Tom Landon-Lane, Brendan Turner and Dave Khan. Being a huge fan of Howl and Whisper his recently released debut album it was a treat to see the songs performed with most of the musicians who helped record it. They opened with the upbeat ‘There’s Your Lord’ which got the crowd moving, got some out of their seats and definitely set the mood for the evening. ‘Old Moon’ was a soft touch to follow as Tom showcased what his band could do with Landon-Lane’s slide guitar and Khan’s violin easily filling in for the brass on the album. Title track from the album Howl and Whisper’ was easily my highlight as the crowd sang along and the dedicated Tom Cunliffe fans in the crowd (of which there were few) yelled and danced. Closing the set Khan and Cunliffe remained on stage to play ‘Time to Cry’. Cunliffe let loose vocally while Khan followed closely on the fiddle, featuring many of my favourite Tom Cunliffe vocals, 

“I slipped out the back with the junkies and the alley cats.”
“You’d better pray, for the sinners and the sluts and just in case you’re gay, you’d better pray.” 

Eb & Sparrow took to the stage to perform two sets, the full five piece band all in the house. They brought so much energy to the stage, and Ebony Lamb’s dry wit and occasionally dark humour was (as always) balanced by the jovial boys in the band. I was pleased to hear ‘Big Train’ in the mix in the first half, one of the first songs I heard from their debut album. It was surrounded by almost the entire new album Sun/Son, from the driving ‘The Sun’ to the twang of  ‘Hungry Little Town’. ‘Kimbolton’ was the source of the most amusing moment of the first half as Lamb discovered that an audience member was from Kimbolton (something that had never occured before). Easily my highlight of the first half was the slow, harmonious and etherial ‘I Want You’. The harmonies from Winter and Johnson were minimal but crucial the whole night, just when you wanted them and they never overpowered Lamb, just perfectly supported it. However, it’s the slide guitar from Heveldt that really carries ‘I Want You’, giving it the atmospheric and large sound that soothes and washes over you.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to get up and dancing, by the time they played ‘Coward Son’ (one half of the most recent album title), it appeared that the whole room was moving. Last week Eb & Sparrow were finalists for the Best NZ Country Album in Gore (The Warratahs took the top prize), and they showed every bit of why they are easily one of the best folk/alt country bands in the country. Chris Winter alternates between a real collection of instruments (bass, guitar, trumpet and french horn) and one of the real strengths of the whole band is knowing what arrangement of instruments each song needs. With new drummer, Justin Barr, behind the helm, who kept the band together with ease, Eb & Sparrow were on top form. There were many moments of perfection on brass from Winter and the understated, yet intricate, guitar and bass parts that alternated between Winter and Johnson took a lot of my attention this gig. All of this doesn’t even discuss Ebony Lamb and her commanding presence on stage. She asked the crowd many times how they were, bemoaned the weather in Wellington (I think this is a must if you’re from the South right?), and finally dedicated her last song to family, friends and all their children left home when they go on tour. ‘Little Hands’ is beautiful, it was a perfect closer to an evening I’ll long remember, just as it’s a perfect closer to their latest album. 

We got some photos, although not quite as many as we’d have liked. Enjoy. 

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