It’s fair to say that when you get to see a band you’ve listened to, admired and loved for many years, there is always the potential for the night to not live up to the expectation. Last night in the Spiegeltent at the New Zealand Festival, in Wellington, all my expectations were met and blown out of the water. 

The Staves were truly breathtaking. I could end the review there. It was one of, if not, the best shows I’ve ever been to. The sisters from Watford walked out on stage to a full house and opened the show a capella with ‘Wisely & Slow’. A song that opened their debut album and I saw a few tears in the audience around me as the the trademark harmonies started the night. These were not the last tears of the night. 

They followed this with ‘Blood I Bled’ the opening track of second album If I Was. Showcasing the transition from first album to new works, this song builds from an almost acoustic opening to the indie/alternative sound that they’ve experimented with in recent releases. They worked their way through a few of their new songs – the quite experimental and percussive heavy, looping numbers off 2016 EP Sleeping In A Car, and reached what was probably the highlights for many people. 

The harmonies of ‘No Me, No You, No More’ and ‘Make It Holy’ are the sounds that have drawn listeners to the band for years. There’s a moment in ‘Make It Holy’ that has hair standing on the back of your neck and smiles were on almost every face. Their harmonies have roots in jazz, and they craft unique and challenging chords with their three voices, supported by a variety of instruments. These harmonies are the backbone of their music and easily the most pristine and awe inspiring harmonies of any folk act performing today. Seeing them live allowed us to see how they are worked together – Emily on the lows, Camilla on the highs and Jessica somewhere in the middle. 

The set was not without its hard hitting and alternative parts, ‘Black & White’ saw them let loose, accompanied by drummer, David Power Christopher (as introduced). ‘Damn It All’ was huge, as they slowly built the song up from sparse harmonies to the driving rhythms of electric guitar and drums. 

We were treated to Camilla’s topical joke of performing in the ‘Smeagol-tent’, and this broke the ice. They were easy going, and the moments of sister-sister banter were perfect. They sung happy birthday for an audience member, and promised to return, which they’ll be held to I’m certain. 

There was a moment of panic when they left stage at the end of the set and suddenly a microphone was being packed down, as if it was all over. We all watched with relief as a single microphone was set up and The Staves returned to stage to close out the show with the raw and honest performance that garnered them attention many years ago – the three of them and an acoustic guitar. 

It was as if things had gone too perfectly, for just as they started their final song performing ‘Mexico’ – undoubtedly the song that many of the audience discovered them from, the PA blew up with a sudden pop. They finished the verse and calmly asked ‘Has it gone?” in acknowledgement of the speakers. We all responded with a fearful ‘Yes’, and they calmly walked to the front of the stage and played the song with no amplification. You could hear a pin drop as their harmonies sang us into the evening. The standing ovation was earned many times over and I wish I was in Wellington to see them Tuesday night (I’d find a way to sneak in through sold out doors)! 

If you’re attending on Tuesday, lucky you. They’ll be back, I’ll be waiting, fingers crossed! 

(Currently listening to: The Staves, recently released live EP: Pine Hollow). 

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