- Baxter's Perfect Vocals
- Great On-Stage Banter
- Masterful Musicianship
- Fairly Short Set
- Fairly Quiet Crowd
You always worry with free shows that no-one will turn up, as it doesn’t cost them anything to miss it. That was my first thought as I went to check out Avalanche City at ‘the Tuning Fork’, in Auckland.
Entering the venue around 7 pm, the crowd was easily outnumbered by the throng of iHeartRadio and 2Degrees staff who were busily getting the place ‘camera-ready’ as the show was being filmed for a iHeartRadio special.
Those of us who had arrived early were excited to see up-and-coming folk singer-songwriter Avalanche City, better known to his Mum as Dave Baxter, a talented musician who also happens to be the owner of one of Auckland’s better beards.
The narrow and darkly lit Tuning Fork, which was flanked by luxuriously deep red curtains is the perfect venue for these small, intimate musical events and an expectant crowd (which forutnately filled to an impressive size) chatted noisily while waiting for the show to begin.
Avalanche City has been riding a wave or critical and commercial success after the release of his rather weirdly titled sophomore effort ‘We Are For The Wild Places’ (#1 on the iTunes album chart) and smash hit single ‘Inside Out’ (not to mention the success of 2011’s ‘Our New Life Above Ground’ which spawned the inescapable ‘Love Love Love’). This newfound success saw iHeartRadio offer Baxter the final slot in their impressive roster of free shows this year.
Arriving at the stage around 9 pm, Dave and his four-piece backing band (Stephen Thomas on drums, Ben Deveray on keys, trumpeter and xylophonist Song Jin and, multi-instrumentalist David Love) set about warming the crowd immediately.
Avalanche City’s first album worked, in large part, due to the blending of simple storytelling with whimsical melodies. The opening rattle and lush layering of the nights first song, ‘The Midnight’ was a perfect illustration of how the band has built on this folksy charm while delivering more sophisticated melodies and a broader lyrical exploration (not to mention more instruments – the band played 10 between them on the night!).
The following song, ‘Ends In Ocean’, saw the band kick it up a notch – and Baxter’s trademark infectious soaring sing-along choruses were matched with a driving beat, lively keyboard, and cascading trumpet. Throughout the night it was evident that Dave doesn’t simply just write and perform his songs, he inhabits them, seemingly committing his whole being to artistic expression in the moment.
This approach adds something truly magical to the night’s live performance – particularly on songs like ‘Inside Out’, which was one of the night’s many highlights. Listening to the song live, it’s hardly surprising Avalanche City have been making such a stir recently, and that they’ve been swiftly elevated from pub gigs to mainstream radio play.
Baxter’s dry wit has on display throughout the night and he provided us with memorable anecdotes on a range of topics including the joys of escaping Auckland, to his idea of a big night out (which usually includes peppermint tea and a good book). His appreciation for the audience and those who have so readily embraced the band over the last year or so was palpable, and this was returned in-kind a game crowd.
Highlights came quick and fast at this point, in the form of ‘Fault Lines’ (the best vocal delivery of the night – soaring while sweet), ‘Little Fire’ (which scored points for matching an infectious chorus with an ukulele), and ‘Wild Places’ (which saw Dave channel his best ‘Graceland’ period Paul Simon during the choruses while forgoing drums in favour of handclaps from the crowd).
Placing Baxter’s vocals is not too dissimilar a task to placing their sound – while his delivery can be compared to indie-folk contemporaries including Wesley Schultz of ‘The Lumineers’, Dallas Green (City and Color,) and singer-songwriter Matt Costa, the shows slower moments (‘Giving Me A Sign’), revealed hints of Alexi Murdoch and even a little James Mercer. The song in question has the crowd transfixed, and saw Dave strip his performance back to just him and a guitar. His delivery was effortless – sweet, hushed, and lingering.
In reaching what Baxter joked would be the encore of the show, if his band was big enough to do that sort of thing (and the idea of fishing for it didn’t make him queasy) we were treated to two show-stoppers – the instantly recognisable ‘Love Love Love’ (which saw the crowd loudly joining in), and my personal fav – ‘Rabbit’, a wonderfully powerful song which built almost imperceptibly from a delicate intro to a glorious wall of noise – with the band coming alive in the final notes of the song, trumpet, guitars and keyboard soaring along to a monster beat.
As the hour-long set drew to a close, Avalanche City had truly won over the now fever-pitched crowd, with many wishing that the show would go on for another hour.
After the show, Baxter came down into the foyer to sing merchandise and take selfies (as is now customary at any gig), and while I came into this show cautiously hping for a good night, by the time I shook Baxter’s hand I was scompletely sold.
When I asked him if he had any parting words for The Speakeasy readers Baxter confessed – “You’ve put me on the spot here a bit – I’m just a humble musician. It takes me long enough to come up with a song, how about you come up with something? Make it insightful… and lovely… Yeah, insightful and lovely”. I probably wasn’t supposed to print that bit, but it seemed a fitting end to an insightful and lovely night.
Drive On, The Inside Out, Fault Lines, Little Fire, Wild Places II, Giving Me A Sign, Wild Places I, The Streets, I Need You, Keep Finding A Way, Love Love Love, Rabbit.
Dave Baxter teaches you to play ‘Inside Out’ on guitar: